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Borlaug Institute Helps Identify Ways to Increase Iraqi Agricultural Employment

 

News from
Texas A&M University

By Paul Schattenberg, Texas A&M Staff
April 13, 2007

COLLEGE STATION Through its Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, Texas A&M University is again playing a significant role in helping revive agriculture in Iraq.

Dr. Edwin Price, associate vice chancellor and director at the Borlaug Institute, along with five other Texas A&M agricultural faculty and staff members, recently traveled to Iraq as part of a 10-person team assessing opportunities to increase Iraqi agricultural employment over the next nine months.

"This team, the Agriculture Team for the Brinkley Group for Business Transformation, was invited and supported by the Office of the Under Secretary for Business Transformation at the U.S. Department of Defense," Price said. "We met with staff representing U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces operating in the International Zone, as well as with U.S. military civil affairs offices, military personnel and members of Provincial Reconstruction Teams."

The agriculture team, which conducted its assessment from Feb. 24 to March 7, met with reconstruction groups in Al Anbar, Baghdad, Salah Ah Din, Arbil, Dhi Qar and Diyala provinces.

After making their assessment, they provided several recommendations for improving Iraqi agricultural employment in the near, medium and long term.

The team's near-term team recommendations include a Tigris-Euphrates basin salination abatement, irrigation and drainage system program and a national campaign to boost crop value-chain efficiency and productivity. Other recommendations for the near term include programs targeted at produce sorting, grading and packaging, and animal feed manufacture.

"Efforts for these programs can be initiated within a few months to achieve a positive impact on increasing agricultural employment in Iraq," Price said.

The team also suggested steps for more medium- and long-term agricultural employment, he said. Those include livestock health and breeding improvement, oilseed production, crop variety implementation, sorghum and millet production, alternative crop selection and planting, and integrated pest management.

"We identified additional medium- and long-term programs, but these were the ones given priority from the perspective of their potential impact on Iraqi agriculture and the relative speed with which they could be implemented," Price added.

While the Iraqi agriculture sector absorbs a significant percentage of the Iraqi workforce, it currently adds far less than it could to Iraq's gross national product, he said. In addition, Iraq's current agricultural output is inadequate to provide the necessary food for its own population.

U.S. government agency estimates vary on the number of Iraqis currently employed in agriculture, with figures ranging from 25 percent to about 50 percent of their active workforce.

To provide immediate help in increasing agricultural employment, as well as to support more long-term efforts to stabilize Iraq's agriculture, on-site expertise is a must, Price said.

"There is a pressing need to support civilian affairs efforts and efforts by the provincial reconstruction groups by bringing in U.S. agricultural generalists with the skills and expertise we see in our county Extension agents," Price said. "They could be posted with reconstruction teams throughout Iraq, and their efforts could be supported by specialists in fields such as integrated pest management, greenhouse horticulture, soil science, refrigerated shipping and storage, and irrigation engineering."

Agricultural experts could be posted in designated areas, but would be available to serve widely throughout the country at the request of civil affairs units, reconstruction teams and Iraqi agencies, he said.

"For Iraqi agriculture to rebound in the short run and rebuild in the long run, it is vital that we have people there who can directly demonstrate the advantages of modern agricultural methods and policies over previous unsuccessful methods and policies," he said. "Seeing is believing."