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NMSU president in Iraq as major agricultural initiative announced

New Mexico State University President Michael Martin was in Baghdad today as a major initiative to revitalize Iraq's agricultural extension system was announced.

een a real honor to participate in this very important visit," said Martin, who accompanied U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns on the trip. "Several things are clear to me. The first is that there's a real opportunity for us to make a difference in rebuilding Iraq by working closely with our colleagues in agriculture to revitalize that important sector. The second thing that's obvious is that American universities have a chance to participate in this rebuilding effort."

Johanns and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zukam Ali Zawba signed a joint statement of intent to strengthen and broaden Iraq's agricultural extension system and universities through partnerships between universities in both countries.

"The agenda outlined by the Iraqi government and Secretary Johanns really does offer great hope for progress in a sector that's essential to this country economically, culturally and socially," Martin said in a news teleconference from Baghdad. "We are ready to go and look forward to participating in what will certainly be a bold and important move as we seek to create peace through building bonds with our fellow citizens around the world in agriculture, particularly here in Iraq."

Johanns and Martin spent 10 hours meeting with senior Iraqi officials and agricultural producers. Also participating were Ken Root, a farm broadcaster from Iowa, and Terry Harris, vice president of international affairs for Riceland Foods. Following the meetings, the group ate with troops from Iowa and Nebraska at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

"It was delightful to meet some colleagues who share an interest in science, education, outreach, building institutions and improving human resources," Martin said. "American academics can learn a great deal in this environment, and I think we can teach a great deal, as well.

"We certainly embrace both the letter and spirit of the agreement reached today. We stand ready, working through the secretary's office, to be an active and productive participant in what will prove to be a wonderful investment and a great adventure for all of us who care about creating peace and really bringing stability back to this country and our friends here."

The initiative will partner U.S. land-grant colleges and universities, such as NMSU, with agricultural universities in Iraq to work together in various areas, including wheat and rice production, animal health initiatives and water management.

Martin was selected to join Johanns on the trip because of his expertise as an agricultural economist and his extensive experience with land-grant universities. He is expected to return from his trip on Wednesday afternoon.

Victor Venegas, Broadcast/Media Coordinator
Aug. 1, 2006