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U of I College of ACES to lead consortium of universities to aid Iraq
By Leslie Myrick
News and Public Affairs, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
URBANA, Ill. — A consortium led by the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) is collaborating with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) to improve the livelihoods of Iraq’s farmers by modernizing and strengthening their agricultural extension systems.
The new project, titled “Harmonized Support for Agricultural Development (HSAD),” is led by Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture, executed by ICARDA, and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). HSAD will target commodities that are crucial to Iraq’s national food security, including wheat, barley, small ruminant products and date palm.
The U of I’s role in the consortium will be to improve the delivery of extension services and develop the capacity of farmers and extension partners. For example, the team will work with Iraq to train and support local extension workers to be “knowledge brokers” and link farmers to markets by drawing on the expertise of innovative farmers who are already producing and marketing profitable agricultural products.
The HSAD project is in addition to the Modernizing Extension and Advisory Systems (MEAS) project, also granted by USAID. The five-year MEAS project, now in its third year, involves a strategic analysis of the activities and investments needed to strengthen the pluralistic extension systems in developing countries, with a particular focus on the 19 designated as core Feed the Future countries. To date, MEAS has done such work in Bangladesh, Egypt, India (Bihar), Liberia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda and Tajikistan.
Paul McNamara, director of the Modernizing Extension and Advisory Systems (MEAS) project and associate professor of family and consumer economics, explained: “To strengthen and expand Iraq’s extension system, we will draw on our own experience through MEAS as well as the valuable experience our partners, UC Davis, Texas A&M and the University of Florida, have had working in similar locations. Specifically, we will work on the structures Iraq uses to organize their extension system. We will work to expand the capacity of their extension agents, not only improving their technical skills in certain areas, like water management, irrigation, horticulture and major crop systems, but also making sure the extension system is set up in such a way that allows the farmers to have a voice and input into the services that are delivered. Additionally, we and our partners have relevant experience using Internet-delivered training programs that can be adapted for use for Iraq.”
MEAS Project Manager Andrea Bohn said: “We are honored to receive additional funds to extend our missions to Iraq. It is a testament to the strong work we are already doing with MEAS in the arena of international agricultural development.”
Bohn recently attended an HSAD inception meeting in Baghdad that included Iraq’s Minister of Agriculture, H.E. Izz Al-Din Al-Dola, and ICARDA’s director-general, Mahmoud Solh, who welcomed the Iraqi government’s strong support for HSAD. An outcome of the meeting was the establishment of three working groups: proven technologies with potential for rapid transfer to farmers; opportunities for strengthening agricultural extension; and a “constraint analysis” on policy and value chains.
“The public extension system in Iraq is currently weak, given that there are staff, but they are not well trained nor well equipped,” said Schuyler Korban, director of ACES Office of International Programs. “This project will bring much stability to Iraq’s farmers and will impact millions of people as more products become available through increased marketing channels.”
Posted March 7, 2013