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Deans plant seed of hope in Iraq

Ramaswamy, others, suggest options for improving ag

Capital Press

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon State University Agriculture Dean Sonny Ramaswamy never feared for his life during the five days he spent in Iraq last month.

The experience did, however, bring home the war for Ramaswamy.

"There is a palpable sense that you've got to be careful," Ramaswamy said. "But you've got to trust the fellows that are there to protect you, and you've got to do exactly what they tell you."

Nights were punctuated with the sound of explosions and helicopters lifting off and landing, he said.

"Your brain sort of gets used to the noise," he said. "It's kind of like white noise. It's surreal."

During the days, Ramaswamy and six other U.S. agriculture college deans traveled with armed guards to Iraqi universities and talked agriculture with university administrators.

The mission was part of a U.S. Department of Defense effort to revitalize Iraqi agriculture.

With some investment in infrastructure and education, Ramaswamy believes the country could one day be a net exporter of agricultural products.

Currently, Iraq imports 85 percent of its food.

James Hill, associate dean for international programs at University of California-Davis, who also participated in the mission, agreed.

"They definitely have the right climate and the right soil," Hill said. "They definitely have water and salinity problems, but they have a lot of opportunities."

Among impediments inhibiting advancements in Iraqi agriculture are archaic farming practices, a lack of infrastructure for food production and distribution, a lack of knowledge and a lack of trained educators.

The deans are recommending Iraqi universities offer their faculty six-month and one-year sabbaticals to U.S. universities. As part of the sabbaticals, the educators would be expected to return to the universities and offer training to their faculty colleagues.

The deans also are encouraging the Iraqi government to offer Iraqi students full scholarships to U.S. universities to study agriculture.

The seven universities represented on the mission were Kansas State, Michigan State, UC-Davis, Penn State, Auburn, OSU and Iowa State.


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