Iraq

USDA and Iraqi Farmers Team to Improve Agriculture Fellowships strengthen farming practices in MENA region

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By Carrie Loewenthal Massey
Special Correspondent

Washington - In Mada'in Qada, a region east of Baghdad in Baghdad province, a farmers' cooperative helps its more than 800 members cultivate their land using modern, sustainable agricultural techniques.

The Green Mada'in Association for Agricultural Development celebrated the completion of its first year of operations by opening a new office and warehouse space and holding its first board of directors meeting in December. The co-op provides low-interest credit lines to farmers to enable them to buy or rent equipment and supplies, like seeds and fertilizer. It also offers farmers free technical assistance and training.

A collaboration among the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Iraq Ministry of Agriculture and 47 Mada'in Qada agricultural associations, the co-op is part of the USDA's efforts under the umbrella of the U.S. provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. USDA representatives worked with Iraqis to launch the cooperative in 2008, with an initial $6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of State.

Additional financial support from the U.S. Commanders' Emergency Response Program and contributions from co-op members subsequently allowed for the installation of almost 600 drip-irrigation systems and more than 400 greenhouses. This expansion of the co-op raised farmers' confidence in the project's sustainability and resulted in increased membership, according to a USDA press release. The co-op continues to increase its enrollment by 10 percent each month.

In the future, if it obtains funding, the co-op would like to construct a poultry feed mill, cattle chutes, and a date-processing plant, USDA said. Already, however, the project has made a difference in the lives of the participating farmers.

"Members of the cooperative call it the Green Miracle in Mada'in Qada," said John Ellerman, a USDA adviser on the Provincial Reconstruction Team in South Baghdad.

In addition to work on the co-op, USDA agricultural advisers have partnered with other Iraqi communities to expand agricultural development. In Istiqlaal Qada, located 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Baghdad, 200 women have completed training in poultry flock management and beekeeping. USDA organized the course, which was taught by a local veterinarian. Many of the women are widows, and all are members of a farm organization. Upon completion of the most recent course, the 75 graduates received 10 hens, one rooster and 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of fodder to start their own poultry farm.

To extend the growing season of certain crops in Ninewa province, USDA, the Iraqi Agricultural Ministry, the Ninewa General Directorate of Agriculture, and local farmers are partnering to construct greenhouses. USDA selects, by lottery, members of a local grass-roots farmers' aid group to receive greenhouses and agriculture training. Recipients, in return, pay a portion of their profits back to the organization to help fund more greenhouses for other members. The greenhouses will allow the farmers to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, squash, eggplant and okra past their outdoor seasons.

EDUCATIONAL FELLOWSHIPS

Through fellowship programs that connect American universities and professionals to scientists and agricultural leaders in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), USDA helps advance agricultural practices in the region.

The Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program provides opportunities for training, collaborative research, and transfer of science and technology through exchanges for entry-level faculty and policymakers from MENA and other developing countries. The fellowship focuses on promoting food security and economic growth.

Borlaug fellows from Oman recently completed a food safety and quality management program with the University of Nebraska, in which they considered the whole "farm to fork" chain, including producers, processors, handlers, retailers, inspection agencies and consumers, according to a USDA report. Additionally, to help overcome sanitary and phytosanitary (pest- and pathogen-related) obstacles to trade, Bahraini fellows trained in the epidemiology of diseases of sheep and goats, animal identification, and bio security.

In Iraq, the Borlaug Fellowship aids in reconstruction efforts by fostering technical and scientific exchanges in water management. American institutions including Texas A&M University, University of Florida, Iowa State University, University of Nebraska, University of Minnesota, and Clemson University have trained 25 Iraqi scientists in areas ranging from irrigation and draining to drought management to seed improvement.

USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service administers the Borlaug Fellowship in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Similar to the Borlaug Fellowship, the USDA's Cochran Fellowship Program aims to train agriculture professionals from middle-income and emerging market economies to help increase agricultural productivity and strengthen trade. The Cochran Fellowship provides training of three weeks on average in the United States to senior and mid-level specialists and administrators working in a broad array of agriculture disciplines, from policy making to agribusiness development, to animal, plant and food science, to agricultural marketing.

In 2009, MENA countries participating in the Cochran Fellowship include Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Oman and Tunisia. Opportunities within the fellowship resemble a program in which government officials from the agricultural ministries of Algeria and Tunisia took part in 2008. Six representatives from the two countries attended a 10-day exchange at the Babcock Institute for International Dairy Research and Development, part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Participants toured a dairy processing plant and discussed meat quality standards, carcass handling and safety requirements, testing and related topics.