Missouri specialists help farmers in Iraq

It's not exactly beating swords into ploughshares, but a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist spent 18 months in Iraq, helping promote peace through farming.

Wendy Flatt, regional livestock specialist in Howard County, was hired by the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service to join a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in

the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk. From late 2009 to early 2011, Flatt worked with farmers, veterinarians and others to help revive an agricultural economy long hobbled by war and oppression.

Her mission wasn't just humanitarian: It was part of the U.S. military's efforts to secure long-term stability in the region.

"If people have jobs, they not going to want to plant IEDs (improvised explosive devices) or shoot rockets at the base because they'll have a way for their families to eat and can

pay for electricity and other things folks here in the U.S. take for granted," Flatt said.

Flatt's projects included helping establish a micro-dairy where associations of local producers could safely and economically process pasteurized dairy products.

Iraqis in Kirkuk were buying milk, cheese and yogurt produced in neighboring Iran and Turkey because the war and ensuing instability left local producers without

access to modern, sanitary equipment. Now that's changing.

Flatt helped train 27 Iraqi women veterinarians, not only sharing her knowledge of modern techniques and practices but teaching them about running their

veterinary practices as businesses. She worked with farmers to help with livestock nutrition, developing business plans and installing heaters in

hoop houses to extend the growing season.

Flatt brought not only her knowledge and experience in agriculture, but as an extension specialist she is used to getting people who aren't

necessarily on the best of terms to work together. This skill is especially valuable in a place like Kirkuk, where ethnic tensions have simmered for centuries.

"Skills I got from being a livestock specialist with MU Extension taught me how to work with groups of people whether they got along or not," she said.

"In Iraq it was a lot more volatile, obviously, but I was able to facilitate a dialogue between people who would never have talked or worked together."

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