By Sgt. 1st Class Tami HillisJuly 7, 2008
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq (Army News Service, Jul. 7, 2008) -- A team from the Borlaug Institute of Texas A&M University Agricultural Team spent approximately one month with the Vanguard Brigade developing a list of recommendations to improve Iraqi agricultural capabilities.
The 14-member team of agricultural and veterinary scientists arrived June 2 to FOB Kalsu -- the first stop in the team's six-month trip to Iraq.
The team is comprised of members specialized in 11 different areas -- irrigation and water use; youth development; cereal, grain and row crop production; horticultural production and cold chain; aquaculture; poultry; livestock; animal health; agricultural machinery; agricultural economics; and strategic planning and agricultural policy.
During the month, members of the team traveled around the Vanguard area of operations to farms so they could observe and collect data on crop production, livestock production, food processing, transportation, labor markets and government services.
"It has been an honor and pleasure to travel with Team Borlaug in the Vanguard area of operations," said Maj. Marilyn Lazarz, Company B, 415th Civil Affair Battalion. "I learned a lot about agriculture and aquaculture in Iraq from the team."
The goal of the team when it leaves is for the Iraqi farmers to say, 'We did it ourselves' and take ownership of their future, said Edwin Price, team leader.
"Members of Team Borlaug are professionals that are devoted to their work and will accomplish their mission," Lazarz said.
The most pressing issue brought up to team members by the farmers during their visits was the lack of water and electricity.
"We were able to talk to the local citizens and do what we needed to do due to the great relationships the units had with the local citizens," said Dr. Glen Shinn, deputy team leader. "We would ask them, is today better than yesterday' And do you think tomorrow will be better than today' And 90 percent of those who responded said yes."
The team's final report to Col. Thomas James, the commander of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, emphasized five major areas of concern.
First, was a lack of water in Babil province's cropland.
Water is essential for the stabilization and agricultural recovery in the area, said Shinn. The area needs to rehabilitate and maintain their irrigation systems -- pumps, generators and canals. Babil Province has adequate water resources but limited water infrastructure for agricultural production.
Next, the team addressed a lack of youth agriculture programs. Youth are a major part of the labor force for agriculture production at the farm level. The team recommended Iraqis form youth organizations through the schools or the agriculture associations, which currently cater to men. Shinn emphasized that youth programs hold long-term hope for Iraqis.
Third, crop varieties and animal breeds have degraded over time.
"They need to use certified seeds so they are able to produce a higher quality crop," Shinn said. "They also need to import better fish, poultry and cattle genetics."
The team is also concerned that Iraqi livestock are among the world's most diseased -- it is very diverse and widespread.
"You name it, it's here," Shinn said. "A lot of the diseases in both animals and humans are due to poor water sanitation."
They also recommended an increase in the number of veterinary services in the local area to improve this situation.
The last major area of concern was the lack of assistance Babil Province farmers receive from extension agents. A recommendation to establish an extension institute jointly between the Ministry of Agriculture and the universities and institutes will allow farmers to get the support they need.
"They have been in a vacuum for the past 20 years in reference to technology," Shinn said. "The AG Association that is in place now is a very powerful tool and a step forward."