Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer has recognized the efforts of nearly 60 USDA employees who volunteered to serve as agriculture advisors in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It is an honor for me to recognize the brave and devoted USDA employees for their tremendous assistance to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq," said Schafer. "These men and women volunteered to serve as agriculture advisors because they believed their expertise — whether in forestry, soil and water conservation, food safety, agricultural Extension, or veterinary services — would help farmers in these countries return to their livelihoods and contribute to revitalizing their agricultural sectors and economies."

USDA agriculture advisors began serving in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003. Staff have served on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), a 60-100 person military unit, as advisors to the national governments of Afghanistan or Iraq, and as Foreign Service Officers stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Their goal has been to help Afghanistan and Iraq rebuild these agricultural sectors by planning and implementing reconstruction and agricultural development projects. Projects vary depending on the agricultural needs of the area, but can range from improving food and animal production and marketing systems to veterinary infrastructure, soil and water conservation, and reclamation programs.

Advisors to the national government help to build capacity of ministry officials and collaborate with ministry staff to develop long-term strategies for agricultural development.

This year, USDA placed 13 individuals, who serve as PRT agriculture advisors in Afghanistan. As part of President Bush's New Way Forward strategy, USDA anticipates deploying up to an additional 15 individuals to serve as advisors on PRTs in Iraq, resulting in the possibility that up to 42 USDA PRT and agriculture ministry advisors will be in that country in 2008. In addition to the ministry advisors, USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service has stationed Foreign Service Officers in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, since 2003.

"The greatest honor we can bestow on the USDA employees here with us today is to continue the mission to help rebuild and revitalize the physical and institutional agricultural sectors in Afghanistan and Iraq, so that the work they performed will have lasting effects for the people and rural development of those countries," Schafer said. "In this regard, I urge the department, from agency heads to managers and supervisors to the employees themselves, to support this mission, and urge those who have the skill sets needed, to consider volunteering for PRT assignments. While the challenges are many, those who accept these positions will have the satisfaction of knowing that the Afghan and Iraqi people truly appreciate their help."