WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2009 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) today announced that Richard Lasko, an assistant fire director with USDA’s Forest Service in Washington, D.C., has volunteered to serve a 13-month assignment in Afghanistan to help rebuild that country’s agricultural sector. Lasko is one of 50 agricultural experts deploying to Afghanistan through early 2010, by which time FAS expects the total number of agricultural staff in Afghanistan to be 64.
"The efforts of people like Richard Lasko are crucial for creating a stable, democratic and economically viable Afghanistan," said Michael Michener, FAS Administrator. "Whether their expertise is in forestry, soil and water conservation, food safety, agricultural extension and policy, or veterinary services, volunteers like Richard are contributing their specialized skills to help farmers, citizens and national and provincial government leaders of Afghanistan rebuild knowledge, institutional capacity and livelihoods. Together, we are providing the foundation on which the agricultural economy of the country can prosper and thrive and create political and social stability."
In 2003, three USDA employees were among the first civilians to bring technical expertise as agricultural experts serving on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan. PRTs are composed of military personnel and civilians from such agencies as the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and USDA.
Since 2003, USDA has deployed 73 people for medium- and long- term assignments in Afghanistan and provided roughly $229 million in food aid to the country. Agricultural experts work instructively with Afghans through a variety of activities meant to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government, rebuild agricultural markets, and improve management of natural resources. USDA projects to-date have included installing windmills to pump water for irrigation and livestock, training veterinarians to detect and treat parasites, rehabilitating a university’s agricultural research laboratory, stabilizing eroded river banks and irrigation canals, developing post-harvest storage facilities, rehabilitating degraded orchards, mentoring provincial directors of agriculture to help them improve their services to farmers, and reforestation.
Lasko will serve as a USDA agricultural expert in Afghanistan. Born in Toledo, Ohio, and raised in La Mesa, Calif., Lasko served in the United States Army in 1968 and 1969 and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Thereafter, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Berkeley, with a major in conservation of natural resources. He also completed extensive graduate-level coursework in forest ecology and silviculture at various universities.
In addition to agricultural experts, USDA also manages programs that train Afghan agricultural officials and professionals in the United States. USDA-led programs such as the Cochran Fellowship Program, the Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellows Program, and the Faculty Exchange Program have brought 50 Afghans to the United States since 2004 for specialized training lasting from two weeks to five months in duration. These public and private sector policymakers, scientists, and academics have upgraded their technical skills in a wide range of topics and then shared this knowledge with their students and colleagues in Afghanistan.
General information about USDA’s programs and activities in Afghanistan can be found at www.usda.gov/afghanistan.
Matthew Herrick (202) 720-0551