More than 55 USDA Civilian Experts Currently Serving in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2011 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) announced today that Neal Westgerdes, a food safety advisor with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in Omaha, Neb., has returned from a one-year assignment in Afghanistan where he helped rebuild that country’s agricultural sector. Currently, 56 USDA employees are serving in Afghanistan. The growth of Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, which engages more than 80 percent of its workforce, is a key piece of the U.S. government’s strategy to stabilize the country.
"Because of brave and devoted employees like Neal Westgerdes, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture is in a better position to deliver training in farming, herding, and land and water management to a growing number of Afghans," said FAS Administrator John Brewer. "Whether their expertise is in forestry, soil and water conservation, marketing, agricultural extension and policy, or veterinary services, USDA agricultural experts are contributing their specialized skills to help Afghans rebuild their economy so that stability may take hold."
Most USDA employees deployed to Afghanistan since 2003 have served as agricultural experts within civilian-military units consisting of military force protection and civilians with expertise in agriculture, governance and other areas in need of attention. USDA agricultural experts work side by side with Afghans and U.S. government and international partners in 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 rural provinces. At the provincial and district levels, USDA agricultural experts train local government representatives and Afghan extension workers in plant and animal health, natural resources management, and improved cultivation and production methods. USDA’s primary role in Afghanistan is helping to build capacity within the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) so that it may deliver vital services to Afghan citizens and farming families. USDA currently maintains up to 10 agricultural ministry experts within MAIL. In late 2010, USDA officials in Afghanistan announced implementation of a $38 million, multi-year effort meant to help MAIL expand its human resources and build administrative capacity.
Additional USDA employees working in Afghanistan serve as Foreign Service Officers and as members of the Interagency Provincial Affairs (IPA) section within the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the office that coordinates the civilian-military units deployed throughout the country.
Westgerdes served as a USDA agricultural expert in Laghman province. Among his many accomplishments, Westgerdes helped Laghman’s Director of Agriculture train and develop his professional staff. He also mentored an Afghan veterinarian and worked with Afghan farmer organizations to implement new training programs. In December, a Kansas National Guard unit serving in Afghanistan presented Westgerdes with the Army Commander’s Award for Civilian Service.
Westgerdes, originally from Coldwater, Ohio, currently resides in Carter Lake, Iowa. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in microbiology, as well as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, both from The Ohio State University. He went on to earn a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, as well as a Key Executive Leadership Program certificate from American University in Washington, D.C.
General information about USDA’s programs and activities in Afghanistan can be found at www.usda.gov/afghanistan.