WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2010—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recognized the work of Michael Neruda, a native of Dorchester, Neb., in a ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 8, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington. USDA organized the event to honor 24 individuals who served as civilian agricultural experts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The agricultural experts were part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to provide civilian assistance abroad to help promote long-term economic development. Neruda served in Iraq.
"It is an honor for me to recognize these brave and devoted employees for their tremendous service to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq," said Vilsack. "President Obama’s whole-of-U.S.-government approach in both nations has drawn civilian and military expertise from across the United States government to help Afghans and Iraqis build a resilient, sustainable agricultural sector, not only helping strengthen the economies of both nations but also contributing greatly to our security here in the United States."
About 85 percent of Afghans derive their livelihood from agriculture and 78 percent of the Afghan labor force works in agriculture. Agriculture represents 10 percent of Iraq’s overall economy. Because agriculture is so important to both Afghanistan and Iraq, agricultural development is playing a major role in establishing stability and security in both countries. USDA experts help teach people to increase productivity on the farm, develop functioning markets, improve availability of agricultural credit, and enhance infrastructure along the supply chain
USDA agricultural experts began serving in Afghanistan in 2003 and Iraq in 2006 and work alongside civilians from the departments of State, Justice, and Interior, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development and Army National Guard. The majority of these individuals serve as extension agents within civilian-military field units called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), working with Afghans and Iraqis to strengthen the capacity of the local government, rebuild agricultural markets, and improve management of natural resources. In addition to agricultural experts, USDA ministry experts work at the Afghan and Iraqi ministries of agriculture to help build the capacity of those institutions to deliver services. USDA also maintains Foreign Service Officers and support staff within the U.S. Embassies of both countries.
Currently, USDA has more than 90 personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the majority of agricultural and ministry experts have come from a dozen USDA agencies and offices from around the United States, others have come from a number of U.S. land-grant universities and State Departments of Agriculture.
For more information about serving in Afghanistan, U.S. citizens or USDA employees should go to www.usajobs.gov and search under the keywords of "USDA Afghanistan."
Contact: Matt Herrick (202) 720-0551
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