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Published February 08, 2010, 12:00 AM

Loaning more aid to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government plans to help the Afghan government develop an agricultural credit facility, Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Feb. 3.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government plans to help the Afghan government develop an agricultural credit facility, Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Feb. 3.

At a news conference on Vilsack’s Jan. 10 to 12 trip to Afghanistan, Vilsack said establishing a credit facility that will provide long-term financing to Afghan farmers is one of the “challenges” the U.S. government faces.

Vilsack did not provide details, but a USDA Foreign Agricultural Service spokesman said preliminary plans call for reviving an Afghan farm credit institution that existed in the 1960s and that U.S. officials hope the capital to back the institution will come from multiple donors, not just the United States.

Vilsack also said USDA expects to have 64 agricultural staff and experts in Afghanistan by the end of February and expects to send more people in the future. Some of the experts are USDA employees, but some are from land grant colleges and other institutions.

Holbrooke said negotiations on a long-delayed Afghanistan-Pakistan agreement for trade and transit of goods are continuing but are bogged down by two “very complicated” issues, but he did not go into details. Because Afghanistan’s refrigeration and distribution facilities were destroyed during the war with the Soviet Union and Afghanistan must use Pakistani facilities, the agreement is considered vital to Afghanistan’s re-entry into the agricultural export markets.

Vilsack said the U.S. agriculture experts are helping the Afghans increase agricultural productivity, revitalize agribusiness, plant trees in deforested areas and improve management in the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. Vilsack praised Afghan Agriculture Minister Asif Rahimi for his honesty, but also noted in a news release that a $20 million grant USDA has made to the ministry is not guaranteed and that the ministry must continue to demonstrate its commitment to transparency to get the money.

Vilsack also noted that he had spoken at a tribute ceremony for Steven “Tom” Stefani, an Auburn, Calif., native, and University of Nevada graduate and U.S. Forest Service employee who was killed in Afghanistan in October 2007 while serving as an agriculture expert.

“Like so many other dedicated U.S. employees, Tom requested to serve in Afghanistan because he wanted to work to improve the lives of the Afghan people who had suffered through years of strife and conflict,” Vilsack said. “His contributions were real and lasting.”

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