Baghdad U Extension Service -- Is the Fertile Crescent ready for this American tradition?

Farmers have been tilling the soil of the Fertile Crescent for thousands of years, so there is little an Iraqi farmer does not know about raising crops there.

Farmers have been tilling the soil of the Fertile Crescent for thousands of years, so there is little an Iraqi farmer does not know about raising crops there.

What is new is trying to make a profit in a free-market enterprise. The government used to control the markets and take what it needed.

Now farmers will need to compete in a free-market business world. And Mike Stevens of Alexandria, Minn., is there to help them do just that.

"We will get questions like, 'What does it take to open up an export market?'" Stevens says.

He notes that several U.S. officials there are adamant about teaching the Iraqis to do things on their own, citing the old adage that says it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him fish.


But are they ready?

"It's useless information to teach somebody how to fish if they don't have a pole and a string and a river to do it in. What we're doing is bringing that river to them. That's basically how it works, but we're always there to help them with a new technique if they're interested," Stevens says.

For the future, though, Stevens does have plans to institute a very American tradition: university and county extension services.

"Just like back home at the county office, there's usually an extension agent there that's got new ideas and technology," he says. "We're partnering with some of the other Middle Eastern areas to open up that door and get so-called county extension agents around that can help the farmers proceed when we're gone."

He also plans to have business specialists from Baghdad University come to the region and show the farmers how to set up a business and keep their books in shape.

"They really look forward to that knowledge, because it's a whole new game for them," Stevens says. "Coming from a society where everything was provided to them, to actually having to sit down and write up a cash flow or budget plan is something that they're really craving."

For the time being, however, this will have to wait.

"The extension agents to come, they're going to be teaching them how to fish," the FSA director says. "For now, it's getting them the seed and getting the chicken coops back up to snuff. It's getting them the chicks that they can't travel to market to get. What I'm doing now is just getting them back to farming."

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