American Forces Press Service
Nov. 18, 2008 - Multinational Division Center leaders met here Nov. 13 to discuss Iraq's agricultural economy. The roundtable allowed attendees to measure progress since the last conference in August, officials said.
"There are two important aspects of a conference like this," said Army Brig. Gen. Jefforey A. Smith, Multinational Division Center's deputy commander for support. "One is the discussion and dialogue and the sharing of thoughts, ... so I would encourage all of us to be good listeners. Second, and most important in my mind, is all of the work that has been done before this."
Division leaders have worked closely with several organizations to develop recommendations and implement plans for a successful agricultural economy, including Team Borlaug from the Borlaug Institute of Texas A&M University, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, provincial reconstruction teams and the Iraqi government.
"We all operate in a resource-strained environment, and there is no amount of resources we are going to be able to apply in the next year to get the agricultural system in Iraq where it needs to be," Smith said. "I think the legacy those folks here will leave for those who come after us and to the Iraqi people is helping them with prioritizing how we apply the resources that are available to the agricultural industry."
While the division has facilitated changes to technology and practices, the most significant impact has been to the Iraqi people, who have become more active in their leadership, economy and agricultural sector, Edwin Price, leader of Team Borlaug, said.
"There are programs that are closely tied to what we are doing that are, in fact, providing formal training to Iraqis," Price said. For example, he said, the Iraq Agriculture Extension Revitalization Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides training for and gives technology to farmers.
It could take five to 10 years for Iraq's agriculture sector to become completely modernized and fully use its irrigation capacity, Price said. But Iraqis can alleviate such issues as poorly bred animals and a weak variety of crops in the immediate future to yield positive progress in the next two years, he added.
"The whole infrastructure has a long way to go; there has been a decline in infrastructure for probably 30 years, but these are near-term objectives the Iraqis can be very successful at improving," Price said.
A productive agriculture sector in Iraq is vital since it is the country's main employer, officials said. Between 50 to 70 percent of the population derives its income and livelihood from farms or in "off-farm" occupations built upon agricultural production.
(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)