Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack returned to the United States today after a three-day trip to Afghanistan.
Vilsack delivered some good news to Afghans by announcing that USDA would provide up to $20 million for capacity building efforts within Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), the department responsible for managing that country’s agricultural economy. The funding, said Vilsack, is not guaranteed, and MAIL must continue to demonstrate its commitment to transparency.
“After decades of conflict, Afghanistan lacks many of the personnel and knowledge resources needed to deliver much-needed services to its people, more than 80 percent of whom rely on agriculture for wages and sustenance,” he said. “Today’s commitment with MAIL will help Afghanistan’s government build critical capacity at the local level in agricultural extension and expertise.”
In delivering his announcement, Vilsack met with Asif Rahimi, Afghanistan’s Minister of Agriculture, and plainly laid out to his counterpart how MAIL could avail itself of up to $20 million in funding from USDA by clearly establishing reconstruction goals aimed at boosting agricultural productivity, rebuilding agribusiness, improving irrigation, creating jobs, and enhancing technologies. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, offered his support of the announcement.
Yesterday, Vilsack also paid tribute to USDA employee Steven “Tom” Stefani, who was killed in Afghanistan in October 2007 while serving as an agricultural expert in Ghazn provincei.
In a tribute ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Vilsack laid a wreath at the base of a memorial for Stefani. He then announced that USDA would establish the “Tom Stefani Award for Reconstruction and Stabilization in Fragile States” to one or more employees as a way to recognize their efforts to rebuild the agricultural sectors of post-conflict countries.
Before his death, Stefani had wanted to build a playground for the children of Ghazni. His family, to honor that memory, set about collecting contributions toward purchasing playground equipment. USDA is helping to expedite shipping of the equipment.
An American chestnut tree outside of USDA’s Whitten Building in Washington is dedicated to Stefani, a man “who died serving his country, helping the people of Ghazni, Afghanistan to build better lives.”
View photos of the Secretary’s trip to Afghanistan here.