The Afghanistan Agricultural Extension Project, coordinated by the University of California, Davis, since 2011 to help rebuild Afghanistan’s agricultural industry, has been selected to receive a 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary’s Honor Award in the global food security category, the highest award given by USDA.
The award recognizes exceptional leadership contributions or public service in support of USDA’s missions and goals. It will be presented today (Nov. 5) in Washington, D.C., to Jim Hill, associate dean for International Programs, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and Michael McGirr, national program leader, USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Center for International Programs.
“This award acknowledges the creativity of our partner universities and the dedication of many Afghan nationals who have worked hard to rebuild the Afghanistan agricultural extension system,” said Hill, who also is a UC Cooperative Extension plant science specialist at UC Davis.
“We have tried to instill a farmer-first, demand-driven extension system and we have been very pleasantly surprised at the ownership taken by the Afghan extension staff even under the most difficult of conditions,” Hill said. “We are also proud of the project’s efforts to reach women through a special ‘Women in Agriculture’ program under the auspices of the University of Maryland through kitchen gardens, food preservation and safety, and household nutrition.”
Hill has led the cooperative effort between UC Davis; Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; and three other U.S. agricultural universities: Purdue University, Washington State University and the University of Maryland.
The project’s goal is to help rebuild Afghanistan’s agricultural sector by empowering government and strengthening development in the country. Agriculture employs more than 80 percent of the labor force and generates more than 40 percent of Afghanistan’s economic output. The project was launched with a $14 million USDA grant, with $5 million of those funds going to UC Davis.
Working with the four Afghan provincial extension offices, the program reconstructed Afghanistan’s old research centers into Provincial Model Teaching Farms from which Afghan extension agents were provided both extension methodology and technical training. From these provincial sites, extension agents conducted more than 1,000 extension demonstrations and village training programs. Both commodity and thematic workgroups were formed by the provincial extension directors to address priority needs for Afghan agriculture and were supported with specific technical training by U.S. university faculty.
“Much to our surprise, after only one year of the project, 13 other provincial extension offices asked to participate in the program,” Hill said.
Perhaps the biggest compliment to the program is that it has received very strong support from the Afghan ministry, and Hill is now working with the university partners to continue the program for three more years under an $18 million grant from USAID.
In the United States, the Cooperative Extension System delivers practical, applied-science information and educational programs to agricultural producers, land managers, consumers, youth, families, businesses and communities through nearly 3,000 offices around the country.