Veneman also announced the first Cochran Fellowship Program with Afghanistan to provide short-term, U.S.-based training for eight Afghan women to study agricultural finance.

"We recognize the importance of agriculture in the Afghan economy and the need to revitalize the sector as an engine of economic growth and the means to a better life for the people of Afghanistan," said Veneman. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture is pleased to be part of the broader U.S. government and international commitment."

Veneman said that food assistance is an important part of that effort. In addition to donations under U.S. Agency for International Development programs, USDA has provided $28 million in food assistance for Afghanistan under its 2003 programs.

In August, in its first government-to-government grant agreement with Afghanistan, USDA announced the donation of $5 million of U.S. soybean oil which will arrive by the end of the year. Under the Food for Progress Program, the soybean oil will be sold locally with the proceeds used to finance a wide range of rural development projects that will help strengthen and revitalize the country's agriculture.

In announcing establishment of the Cochran Fellowship Program for Afghanistan, Veneman said this successful 20-year-old program will be used to empower rural Afghan women. They will learn about business plans, financial management, farmers' cooperatives and micro-credit programs to promote food security and income-generating small businesses.

In her meeting with President Hamid Karzai, Secretary Veneman talked about USDA's many efforts and programs, especially school feeding for Afghan children. USDA is now in its second year of supporting an Aga Khan Foundation project in the north of Afghanistan.

A donation of $9 million in U.S. powdered milk is being used in the region, in part, to provide milk to more than 20,000 children. A portion of the donation is also being used to fund education and agriculture infrastructure development projects.

In October, USDA signed an agreement for almost $9 million with another private aid organization, World Vision, to donate wheat, rice, lentils, and vegetable oil under the new McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. World Vision will use the commodities to provide take-home food rations to 37,000 children and several hundred teachers in western Afghanistan. The school feeding is expected to begin in March, with a strong focus on getting girls into school.

Veneman said that private aid organizations continue to send in new proposals for additional assistance in Afghanistan, and USDA is considering these ideas as part of the planning now underway for 2004 food assistance programs.

In the area of technical assistance, USDA is providing technical expertise to assist in the creation of an Afghan Conservation Corps that will provide jobs in restoring soil and water resources for thousands of unemployed Afghans.

USDA also is contributing to the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan, placing three employees with wide-ranging experience in forestry, conservation and the development of cooperatives on these teams. USDA plans to place three more employees on these teams early next year. These combined civilian-military teams plan and implement reconstruction and agricultural development projects.

In response to an inter-departmental Afghanistan Trade Initiative coordinated by the Department of State, USDA is funding two trade capacity building workshops on the Codex Alimentarius and sanitary and phytosanitary systems for Afghan public and private sector participants.

Veneman said all of USDA's efforts are part of building a lasting partnership with Afghanistan that benefits both countries. "We look forward to continuing to work with Afghanistan to support the hopes of all Afghans for a better future-a future.

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