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May 15, 2007

Purdue gets grant to improve agricultural education, create jobs in Afghanistan

Outdoor exam at Kabul University
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The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded a $7 million grant to Purdue University for the purpose of developing agricultural education in Afghanistan to support rebuilding the country's ravaged economy.

The Advancing Afghan Agriculture Alliance program will help develop agriculture and veterinary programs at Afghan universities and create partnerships among the country's Ministry of Agriculture, local economic development organizations and universities. It also will provide applied educational opportunities for students to gain marketable skills and promote faculty education and recruitment.

"We want to revitalize the university environment and link education to local needs and opportunities," said Kevin McNamara, project leader and a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue who leads the project.

No stranger to Afghanistan, McNamara has been working with the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education for the past three years and has helped renovate the agriculture and veterinary schools' buildings at Kabul University. McNamara, assistant director of International Programs in Agriculture at Purdue, also has helped arrange faculty exchanges in which several Afghan faculty members studied at Purdue and Kansas State University to add to their technical and teaching abilities before returning home.

The alliance will allow more Afghan professors to participate in exchanges at universities in the United States, India and other Afghan institutions, McNamara said.

The grant, awarded in April, also will provide funds for McNamara and others to build demonstration farms and a greenhouse at Kabul University, where they will help develop teaching programs in these new facilities.

"Most of the skill-requiring jobs in the country are held by foreigners," McNamara said. "So it is essential for Afghanistan's development that people from there are trained to participate. The program will prepare students for meaningful job opportunities while empowering them to contribute to the country's development."

Several U.S. land-grant universities and development organizations will partner with Purdue to develop the Advancing Afghan Agriculture Alliance program, including the University of California at Davis, Cornell University, Kansas State University, Catholic Relief Services, Joint Development Associates and the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas.

Taking part in the program with Kabul are the universities of Herat, Balkh, Nangarhar and Kandahar.

Afghanistan's academic institutions have been broken down by years of civil war and Taliban rule, McNamara said. At Kabul University, research farms and plant production equipment were destroyed, and before Purdue's involvement the school had no agricultural laboratory space or equipment, he said.

Since becoming involved in the country, Purdue has contributed computers, teaching materials and technical expertise, and these efforts will continue under the alliance, McNamara said. In fall of 2006, two Kabul professors spent a semester at Purdue gaining lab experience, computer skills and statistical training. Two more are scheduled to come to campus next fall.

Purdue will work to integrate on-farm activities and applied education into the curriculum to teach students applied agricultural technologies, applied plant science and other topics to prepare them for jobs in the local economy, McNamara said.

Although faculty and facilities are much needed in Afghanistan, students are not in short supply, McNamara said. In February 68,000 students nationwide took an entrance exam to compete for the 6,000 slots throughout the Afghan system of higher education. McNamara hopes their efforts will help the system accommodate and better train more Afghans.

Past funding for Purdue's work with Afghan higher education has come from USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Writer: Douglas M. Main, (765) 496-2050,

Source: Kevin McNamara, (765) 494-4236,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes,
Agriculture News Page

In this September 2006 photo, students take an outdoor exam at Kabul University because of a lack of classroom space. Purdue professor of agricultural economics Kevin McNamara said he hopes his team's efforts – like helping to renovate the now-completed school of agriculture in the picture's background – will provide students with better educational opportunities. (Purdue University photo/Kevin McNamara)

A publication-quality photo is available at

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