ACES dean appointed to Bush agriculture board

By Madeline Keleher

President Bush appointed Robert Easter, dean of ACES at the University, to his administration as a member of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development earlier this month.

The board was created in 1975 as a part of the Foreign Assistance Act for the purpose of advising the United States Agency for International Development on issues regarding agricultural development, according to the board’s Web site.

USAID is a federal government agency that oversees foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State. The agency aims to advance U.S. foreign policy goals by supporting global health, economic growth and agriculture, according to the USAID Web site.

“USAID has various projects around the world to assist in the development of food production and utilization,” Easter said. “It helps serve some very basic human needs.”

The White House contacted Easter a few months ago to ask him background questions about his experiences and to obtain a copy of his resume, Easter said.

“I am very pleased with the appointment,” he said. “It gives the University an opportunity to be part of the decision process in Washington in a very important area.”

Easter will serve on the board for the remainder of a four-year term that ends July 28, 2009. The members of the board convene in Washington, D.C., at a minimum of three times per year in meetings that are open to the public.

One of the first things on the agenda for their May 11 meeting is the discussion of a comprehensive African agricultural development program, said Kerry Bolognese, member of the International Programs at the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. Africa has been a major focus of foreign agricultural assistance because it is the continent with the most trouble feeding its population, he said.

“(The board) is working to provide opportunities for people in developing countries, primarily Africa, to get a college education,” Bolognese said. “That way, they will be able to build up their own universities, and have technology and training to build their own countries and agricultural programs.”

The University is currently involved in USAID efforts in Egypt and Afghanistan. The last 25 years of war in Afghanistan have taken a toll on agricultural development, Easter said. Similar to the work in Africa, USAID is educating people in Afghanistan about modern farming methods and technology to improve their quality of life.

“I think it’s a real opportunity to be involved with USAID in an area that is so important to the safety and security of the world,” Easter said.

Over the last 25 years, Easter has traveled to places such as Latin America, Asia and the former Soviet Union for international training in food production. This has allowed him to see firsthand which methods of food production are successful and which ones are not, he said.

“I hope that I can contribute to (the board) to help address problems in ways that will make sustainable solutions,” Easter said. “Long after the projects are over, I want (the projects) to continue to operate and be viable solutions.”