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USDA project benefits Iraqi agriculture

A U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project being led by Texas A&M University has brought Iraqi agricultural personnel to Texas for training and to introduce them to new technologies and methods that may be applied in Iraq.

The 13 Iraqis — 10 from Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture, two from the University of Baghdad and one from the University of Babil — are receiving agricultural instruction at Texas AgriLife facilities throughout the Lone Star State as part of the Iraq Agricultural Extension Revitalization project.

The group is also learning from tours of diverse agricultural sites and operations within the state.

The revitalization project, which began in 2007, is being implemented through a consortium of U.S. land-grant universities spearheaded by Texas A&M in cooperation with Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture and Iraqi agricultural institutions. It is administered through the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, located on the Texas A&M campus in College Station.

“This type of project is key to providing food security, improving rural livelihoods, providing sustainable resource management and increasing economic development in Iraq,” said Ed Price, director of the Borlaug Institute. “Efforts like these will help stabilize the country and provide greater overall security for the Iraqi people.”

According to Price, the USDA initiated the project to provide agricultural Extension training and support, as well as to expand agricultural university development and promote private-sector involvement in Iraqi agriculture.

“The goal is to help achieve sustainable economic improvement for farmers and others living in rural communities throughout Iraq,” he said.

Kate Whitney of the Borlaug Institute is the project’s manager and has been responsible for coordinating the training and other educational opportunities for the Iraqis while in Texas.

“The project is in its second phase and now we’re focusing on bringing small groups of Iraqis involved in agriculture to the U.S. to acquire new knowledge, skills and methods they can take back and share with others in their own country,” Whitney said. “As part of our agreement, they have committed to share what they learn with others when they return to Iraq, so it’s basically a train-the-trainer program.”

This year, the project will bring a total of 61 Iraqis from the agriculture ministry and agricultural universities to the U.S. to receive training from the land-grant institutions involved, she said. The Iraqis now in Texas are in the midst of a 1.5-month-long educational journey which will conclude on Nov. 14.

“We started in College Station early this month with a tour of the campus and an introduction to the Texas AgriLife Research and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service entities of Texas A&M,” Whitney said.

She said the first week of training focused on Extension methods and the 4-H youth development program. The following weeks involved training in dairy, beef cattle and small ruminants. As a part of that training, the group toured dairy operations in central Texas and small ruminant operations in the San Angelo area, along with visiting the Texas State Fair in Dallas to see the livestock show and get a look at the agricultural exhibits.

The group will return to Texas A&M where they will learn about aquaculture and then travel to the Houston area to tour fish farms. They also will receive training on poultry at Texas A&M and be given the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities while visiting the university’s poultry lab. In the days prior to leaving for Iraq, the group will work with university faculty and staff to develop curriculum, course materials and training strategies they can employ on their return.

“We’re spending more time on training and education about small ruminants, especially sheep and goats, as these are very important to the Iraqis,” Whitney said while at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo. She added that even though dairy and beef cattle operations are less prevalent in Iraq, she thought the training and tours relating to these agricultural sectors would prove useful.

“The Iraqis are now working to develop these important industries,” she noted.

Sajeda Eidan, a researcher and lecturer at the College of Agriculture at the University of Baghdad, said her primary topic of interest was sheep, goat and cattle reproduction.

“I want to improve my skills and learn more about how new technology can help me in my work,” said Eidan, who has her doctorate in reproductive physiology. “I’m especially interested in how to use ultrasound to determine pregnancy in sheep and goats, and in learning more about embryo transfer.”

Eidan added that she was hoping to learn how to genetically improve sheep and enhance the quality of their wool.

“I’m looking forward to learning more skills and showing my colleagues when I return to lecture at the university,” she said.

A part of their educational experience, the visitors also were introduced the 4-H youth program, which is administered through AgriLife Extension.

“We wanted them to know about this program because so many Iraqi youth are involved in agriculture and because it will help them build their future,” Whitney said. “4-H programs in the U.S. help us develop future leaders, and a program like this can do the same in Iraq.”

She added that last year the Borlaug Institute gave two recent Texas A&M graduates the opportunity to travel to Iraq as part of Team Borlaug, working with the U.S. military, provincial reconstruction teams and local leaders to establish youth programs patterned after 4-H. During their six months in Iraq, the two helped develop seven clubs in rural areas surrounding Baghdad, serving more than 350 Iraqi youth 7-18 years old.

“The variety of agriculture training and skills and the introduction to new technology and methods this group is being exposed to, as part of this project, will be invaluable to them and those they will share them with once they get back,” Whitney said. “We appreciate the USDA funding this project and feel what we’re doing now will benefit the Iraqis for years to come.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Borlaug Institute, named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution and a distinguished professor at Texas A&M who died recently at 95, carries on his legacy of helping developing nations achieve food security. For more information on the Borlaug Institute, go to:

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