During the past year, agronomist Sean
Currans found himself fulfilling a unique role far away from
The owner of Rugged Country Plants in
Milton-Freewater spent the last 12 months living on Command
Operating Base Basra in southern Iraq. When he went off base, he
wore a bullet proof vest and helmet. He was accompanied by an
interpreter. He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture
bringing Iraqi farmers up to date on modern agriculture
The reality is Iraq has been
isolated for 30 years and has not been adopting new technologies,
For instance, Iraq was the date palm
capital of the world 30 years ago, he said. There were once 30
million date palm trees, but that number has dropped to 2 million
today. Those left only produce about 10 percent of their potential
because of neglect and out-of-date farming practices.
Date palms took up a big portion of
Last March, Currans attended a date
palm conference in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. There he
met representatives from Phoenix Agrotech, a California
Six months later he set up an
exchange program between Iraqi date palm farmers and the American
They had a very enlightening and
wonderful time, Currans said. The Iraqis came back full of
compliments and praise for the hospitality and generosity of the
Californian host, all the things theyve learned and all the new
Since then, Agrotech employees
traveled to Basra to help the Iraqis design model farms.
Currans had the freedom to find this
problem and begin building ways to address it because of the way
the USDA program he works for operates. You go and see whats
going on in a province, he said.
You use your background and
experience to see what you can do to help them develop agriculture
to a more productive level. Professionally, its quite interesting
the amount of latitude we were given to address what issues we
thought were most important.
Currans was able to address another
more complicated and cultural issue, too.
Before the U.S. invasion in 2003,
Currans said, most farming was heavily controlled by the
government. Supplies like seeds and fertilizers came from Baghdad.
Then, after harvest, the government bought the crops.
With the 2003 invasion, that system
quit working and hasnt worked since, Currans said.
The government is pushing for
privatization, for farmers to work things out on their own. But
only in the last year, Currans said, has the government begun to
make progress in that direction.
It is a big change and a big shock
to the farmers, he said. Theyre being told to go to a place
where they havent been before.
To help the Iraqis cope with these
big changes, Currans decided to focus on a basic skill well known
to farmers in the west: communication.
American farmers get together all the
They meet at conferences,
agricultural supply offices, or at the local cafe for coffee. They
talk to each other as neighbors, Currans said. Iraqis dont have
that kind of cooperative communication as their culture. They dont
know what their neighbor is doing. They dont talk to each
So Currans worked to get farmers
together. He brought them to conferences, or to meals and
Then he and his interpreter would say
to the farmers, Wed like to be helping but we dont know how to
do that. What do you guys think? What do you think is needed? What
are your challenges? What are your problems? Lets talk about this
and work on it together.
This is all new for Iraqi
Freedom of speech and the ability to
organize and coordinate is not a part of their world view, Currans
said. They havent had the opportunity to get together and talk
In a way, he said, he was bringing a
very basic form of democracy to the Iraqis. After living under
first communist rule, and then under a dictatorship, the farmers
werent used to having someone ask what they needed.
Currans came home to Milton-Freewater
just before Christmas. He is home for three weeks before leaving
again for a second year in Iraq. He has many goals, including
expanding on his date palm program. Also, by the time his second
year is done, he hopes he has taught the farmers enough about
communication that they can keep talking.
I hope to have enough organizing
meetings with the farmers to where they have a relationship with
each other and with the government, he said. When Im gone, I
hope they can carry on those things for more functioning dialogue
in the province because they got used to doing it when I was
Though he enjoys the work and looks
forward to his next steps, Currans knows there is only so much he
can do in a year.
Its real clear tome its going to
be Iraqis rebuilding Iraq, he said. Americans are not going to do
it. Its going to have to be them coming up with the appropriate
solutions for their own situation. I hope to help them take another
step in that direction.