More than 55 USDA Civilian Experts Currently Serving in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2011 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) announced today that Thomas Vermeersch, a public health veterinarian with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in Beardstown, Ill., has returned from a one-year assignment in Afghanistan where he helped rebuild that country’s agricultural sector. Currently, 56 USDA employees are serving in Afghanistan. The growth of Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, which engages more than 80 percent of its workforce, is a key piece of the U.S. government’s strategy to stabilize the country.
“Because of brave and devoted employees like Tom Vermeersch, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture is in a better position to deliver training in farming, herding, and land and water management to a growing number of Afghans,” said FAS Administrator John Brewer. “Whether their expertise is in forestry, soil and water conservation, marketing, agricultural extension and policy, or veterinary services, USDA agricultural experts are contributing their specialized skills to help Afghans rebuild their economy so that stability may take hold.”
Most USDA employees deployed to Afghanistan since 2003 have served as agricultural experts within civilian-military units consisting of military force protection and civilians with expertise in agriculture, governance and other areas in need of attention. USDA agricultural experts work side by side with Afghans and U.S. government and international partners in 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 rural provinces. At the provincial and district levels, USDA agricultural experts train local government representatives and Afghan extension workers in plant and animal health, natural resources management, and improved cultivation and production methods. USDA’s primary role in Afghanistan is helping to build capacity within the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) so that it may deliver vital services to Afghan citizens and farming families. USDA currently maintains up to 10 agricultural ministry experts within MAIL. In late 2010, USDA officials in Afghanistan announced implementation of a $38 million, multi-year effort meant to help MAIL expand its human resources and build administrative capacity.
Additional USDA employees working in Afghanistan serve as Foreign Service Officers and as members of the Interagency Provincial Affairs (IPA) section within the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the office that coordinates the civilian-military units deployed throughout the country.
Vermeersch served as a USDA agricultural expert in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces. Among his many accomplishments, he worked with the National Guard’s California Agribusiness Development Team to gather nutritional data on animals kept by Afghans for food. The data will help to boost maternal, infant and juvenile nutrition, especially protein consumption. For his work, Vermeersch was given meritorious recognition and awards from the Department of State, U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Army, among others. Vermeersch is originally from Danbury, Iowa, and currently resides in Springfield, Ill. He received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.
General information about USDA’s programs and activities in Afghanistan can be found at www.usda.gov/afghanistan.