Writer: Justin Bannister and Mary A. Benanti
New Mexico State University is a member of a consortium selected by the U. S. Department of Agriculture to help revitalize the agriculture economy in Iraq.
A $5.3 million award to the consortium will fund the newly formed Iraq Agricultural Extension Revitalization Project. USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said the money will be used to strengthen agricultural extension and training at Iraqi universities.
NMSU President Michael Martin said the selection of New Mexico's land-grant institution "shows our university and faculty are at the forefront of extension. Our work goes well beyond the borders of the state of New Mexico. We are looking forward to being an integral part of this team and doing our part to help accomplish the country's goals in Iraq."
Vice provost for extension, Paul Gutierrez, said the selection of NMSU shows not only the university's commitment to extension, but also to making a difference globally and, in the long run, creating conditions that will possibly help "bring our troops home sooner."
Texas Cooperative Extension at Texas A&M University will lead the consortium that includes NMSU, Washington State University, Utah State University and University of California at Davis, said NMSU agribusiness department head Octavio Ramirez.
The partners plan to involve Prairie View A&M University, a historically black land-grant institution, and Dine College, a tribal college, according to a prepared statement by the USDA. The partnering Iraqi universities will be selected in the coming months and will include universities in all parts of Iraq.
"We believe that restoring Iraq's agricultural sector will contribute to overall stability in the country - and the extension system is a tremendous tool to help us achieve this goal," said Johanns. "I'm confident that this group of universities will represent our country very well. We can all be proud that our universities have so much to offer around the world."
The project will provide training for Iraqis to enhance the management, production and marketing related to small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises, Ramirez said. The different universities will specialize in the different areas to be addressed such as arid crop production development, livestock production and animal health, and water resources management and irrigation technology.
NMSU's priority activities will include training of extension specialists, long-term degree training, development of distance learning methods and instructional materials for train-the-trainer extension programs, and field trials, demonstration plots and lab methods for adoption by Iraqi farmers, according to the USDA.
"This is a chance to help an area where there is essentially no functional agricultural extension program," Ramirez said. "We have a chance to help train university personnel in the latest practices in agricultural extension."
Ramirez said much of the training will take place at a research facility in the country of Jordan.
President Martin was present when the IAER was initially announced in August in Baghdad. At that time Johanns and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Salamm Zukam Ali Al-Zawba'i signed a joint statement of intent. Iraq's agricultural sector is the second-largest contributor to the national economy and employs one-quarter of its workforce.
This initiative builds on other U.S. efforts over the past three years - including private sector development, livestock and crop improvement, market development and water management - to help Iraq rebuild its agriculture sector.
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