Purdue receives $32 million Afghanistan farm grant

A grant of $31.9 million awarded to Purdue University may translate into a more sustainable agricultural sector for Afghanistan, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar.

Lugar, an Indiana Republican and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Monday that Purdue has received the five-year grant from the United States Agency for International Development. The grant will fund a project that trains the faculties of agricultural programs at five Afghan universities — including the University of Kabul, the University of Nangarhar, the University of Balkh, the University of Herat and the University of Kandahar.

"Rebuilding Afghanistan's agricultural economy remains one of the highest priorities for United States interests," Lugar said in a statement.

The grant will build off the work experts in the agricultural economics department's Afghan Faculty Exchange Program have undertaken in the war-torn central Asian country since 2006, when the school began bringing Afghan scholars to Indiana for graduate studies, according to program director Kevin McNamara. The program's main focus, McNamara said, is aiding Afghan faculty in maintaining and designing curriculum for agriculture-related disciplines like agronomy, the study of plant utilization in everyday life.

So far this year, the department's exchange program has one staff member on a long-term assignment training university faculty in Afghanistan, and it has continued to send three or four of its professors to teach management and methods seminars for a few weeks at a time, McNamara said. The program has accepted 12 junior university faculty members from Afghanistan as graduate students through a joint Purdue-USAID scholarship, along with 58 students who have completed graduate degrees in India on a USDA-backed scholarship.

According to McNamara, the new grant will bring 18 new master or doctoral candidates into the program.

McNamara has said a sound agricultural sector is crucial to economic growth in Afghanistan, where 85 percent of available work is in agriculture but many of the highly trained faculty fled the country after the Soviet invasion in the 1980s — leaving the country in critical need of agricultural know-how.

Purdue's program to cultivate faculty has been a key investment in human capital in Afghanistan since its inception, according to McNamara.

The Afghan higher education system, McNamara said, went through a 35-year slump in which people weren't getting good educations and the professors who came of age didn't have the knowledge or skill set their new counterparts have developed over the past few years.

"I think the greatest success (of the program) is giving opportunity to a lot of young Afghans who had very difficult lives up to their twenty or twenty-second birthday, giving them the opportunity to go to India and the U.S. and get master's degrees to demonstrate to themselves and others that they could be successful," McNamara. "And seeing them back at home trying to develop a system so others can have this opportunity … so it's really this empowerment of young people to lead."

Purdue president France Cordova said in the statement that the grant goes along with the university's past collaborations with other institutions.

"This partnership extends our previous work in Afghanistan to help build the educational capacity required to improve agriculture and food systems and empower Afghan citizens to contribute to the country's development," Cordova said.

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