From nearly 7,000 miles away, a group of Michigan State University veterinarians is helping Iraqi farmers and veterinarians rebuild the country's livestock food industry, adopt new animal science technologies and educate its farmers and producers.

For a country devastated by decades of war, political oppression and mismanagement, the process of rebuilding can be daunting - particularly if basic needs are not being met, said Robert Malinowski, acting director of the Information Technology Center in MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine and project leader.

"Much of Iraq is in disarray, and its people are in desperate need to rebuild their infrastructure," Malinowski said. "While most people think of roads, sewers and communications when it comes to infrastructure, what is equally important is a vibrant livestock food and animal science industry."

Ann Rashmir, an associate professor with the College of Veterinary Medicine working alongside Malinowski on the project, added: "A country that seeks stability needs to be able to feed itself."

As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project, MSU is working with two Iraqi associations, the Iraqi Red Meats Association - a nongovernmental organization seeking to develop, organize and safeguard activities in regards to red meat production - and the Iraqi Veterinary Medical Syndicate - the nationally-recognized professional veterinary organization in Iraq.

Two Saturdays each month, experts provided by MSU - most from campus, some from other sites - connect with representatives from the Iraqi groups in Baghdad via videoconferencing technology for two-hour sessions. Topics range from farm management, animal nutrition and diseases, biosecurity and modern breeding techniques.

The sessions consist of a narrated presentation created beforehand by the lecturer, who is available via videoconference for questions and comments afterward. A translator and USDA officials are both on location at the Baghdad site.

Malinowski points out how crucial basic procedures and techniques are to the Iraqis: Since 1980, there has been a 44 percent decrease in the number of sheep in the country, an 11 percent drop in cattle and a 20 percent decrease in buffalo, according to the United Nations.

"Animal stockbreeding in Iraq is in need of revitalization and improvement in order to reclaim former levels of productivity," he said. "With so much knowledge and productivity lost, the experts remaining do not have the capacity to educate the rest of the country."

Rashmir added the project is an important example of MSU's global outreach.

"We have the knowledge and resources to help a country rebuild, improve the welfare of its animals and its people," she said. "We can have a huge impact."

The project, which also includes Will Raphael from the College of Veterinary Medicine, began earlier this fall and is set to last 12 months with a potential six-month extension. Malinowski said his Iraqi counterparts are eager to learn.

"We feel we can bring them up to speed very quickly," he said. "It's not about a lack of desire or ability on their end; it's about giving them access to the tools they need to succeed."

Jason Cody
Michigan State University

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