Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Salam Zukam Ali Al-Zawba'I, have signed a joint statement of intent to “strengthen and broaden” Iraq's agricultural extension system and universities.

The effort will be carried out through a series of partnerships between U.S. and Iraqi universities, Johanns said during a stopover in Baghdad following a trade mission to Kazakhstan.

“Agriculture can make a significant contribution to rebuilding the Iraqi economy,” said Johanns. “This project is an important step in realizing that potential. U.S. land-grant colleges and universities have the expertise to help Iraqi agricultural universities with their efforts to rebuild Iraq's food and agriculture sector.”

The agreement marks the first public announcement of USDA assistance for Iraq since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003. The Agriculture Department dispatched representatives to Iraq shortly after the fall of Baghdad but had said little about those efforts since.

Johanns said the new effort is designed to match U.S. land-grant colleges and universities with Iraqi agricultural universities to provide training for Iraqi faculty members on managing extension services and a variety of related subjects.

Possible areas of technical cooperation include production of wheat, barley, rice, fruits, vegetables, sheep and goats, animal health initiatives, and water resources management.

He said the initiative builds on other U.S. efforts over the past three years to help Iraq rebuild its agriculture sector. These efforts include private sector development, livestock and crop improvement, market development and water management.

While in Baghdad, Johanns met with senior Iraqi officials, and with rice and poultry producers and traders.

Under the new partnership, Iraqi university faculty members, students, and extension personnel will receive both short-term, non-degree training and long-term graduate education at U.S. land-grant universities and USDA agencies. They will have the opportunity to attend specialized technical workshops in third countries and develop train-the-trainer instruction materials.

“This education and training will help develop the institutional expertise of Iraqi universities and extension specialists so they can transfer technical agricultural knowledge to Iraqi farmers,” said a USDA official. “The knowledge gained will improve teaching, research, and extension at Iraq's agricultural institutions and bolster the delivery of agricultural extension programs at the national and local level.”

In Kazakhstan, Johanns led a team of representatives of 18 U.S. agribusiness companies and associations that deal in farm and food service equipment, agri-chemicals, animal genetics, meat, poultry, rice, and processed fruits and nuts. The firms also specialize in irrigation and desalinization, engineering, management, and finance.

Johanns and other government officials met with the president, deputy prime minister, agriculture minister and other officials concerning policies and regulations affecting the Kazakhstani trade and investment system.

Johanns also announced that he and Agriculture Minister Akhmedzhan Yesimov will develop a cooperative agreement that will facilitate expanded cooperation in agriculture technology, including biotechnology and trade capacity building. The plan is that the agreement will be concluded and signed when President Nazarbayev and Minister Yesimov visit the United States later this year.