The University of California, Davis, has received $14 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lead a consortium of universities that will help Afghanistan strengthen its agricultural Extension system and stabilize its agriculture-based economy.

The new three-year grant, awarded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is part of a broad effort to empower the government and strengthen development in Afghanistan, where agriculture employs more than 80 percent of the labor force and generates more than 40 percent of the country’s economic output.

Approximately $5 million of the grant will be used to support UC Davis-based work. The remainder will be awarded as subcontracts to extension professionals at Purdue University and Washington State University. Other land grant universities will be engaged as the project moves forward.

For decades, UC Davis has played an important role in extending research findings to the international agriculture community. Since 2003, the campus has been helping to restore Afghanistan’s agriculture by supplying grapevines, providing market surveys, introducing livestock producers to new technology and forage-monitoring systems, and, more recently, creating an e-Afghan Ag website to support agricultural development.

“Thirty years of conflict have left Afghanistan’s agriculture far behind much of the world and with little capacity to improve it,” said Jim Hill, a Cooperative Extension plant scientist and associate dean of international programs in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Our job is to help rebuild the capacity of the extension system to deliver good information to the Afghan farmers.”

Hill will lead the cooperative effort, collaborating with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. In the United States, the Cooperative Extension System delivers practical, applied-science information and educational programs to agricultural producers, land managers, consumers, youth, families, businesses and communities through nearly 3,000 offices.

The newly funded consortium will link Afghanistan’s agriculture ministry with local university faculty, vocational schools, the private sector and other information providers to develop a viable and credible agricultural extension system in Afghanistan. The project will focus on professional development training for extension staff, to increase their ability to meet farmers’ needs and ultimately build public confidence in the agriculture ministry’s capacity to provide critical services.

The project is designed to help improve household food security and increase income through professional training in such areas as postharvest technology for grain and fresh-market produce, conservation agriculture for wheat production, horticulture on the urban fringe, and practical management of livestock and poultry.