Kansas State University's College of Agriculture representatives hosted their counterparts from the University of Baghdad, who have viewed the overthrow of former President Saddam Hussein's regime as the end of sanctions that also has denied the country's scholars access to education and information.
"We are so far behind (in education)," said Fadhil Al-Sahaf, the University of Baghdad's assistant dean for the college of agriculture.
"In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, our country's relations with the United States got bad," he added. "The sanctions that followed were worse on Iraqis than the war. We were not even allowed to receive medicine, information, journals, science....and not just from America, but from all over the world."
The situation was akin to a stranglehold for Iraq's higher education system. Professors could not travel for professional development, nor even receive research information from colleagues in other parts of the world.
One result is that the country's agricultural industry suffered, largely because the void of information crippled Iraq's Extension service, which is designed to pair university research and education with farmers' production needs.
"We are almost starting from the beginning," said Mohammed Salman, the department head for horticulture.
Salman, Al-Sahaf, Riad Abdul-Latiff, civil engineer in the College of Agriculture, and Atheer Kassab, a department head in the College of Veterinary Medicine, represented the University of Baghdad during the nearly three-week visit, which was to end Aug. 29.
Kansas Sate officials signed a five-year agreement to continue communicating and sharing information on areas related to agriculture and education.
The University of Baghdad's College of Agriculture, established in 1952, currently has 4,000 undergraduate and 400 graduate students. Al-Sahaf says the college "has many problems," including inadequate classrooms, computer labs, dorms and student union. The College of Agriculture has identified 15 critical projects, all still awaiting funding.
Initially, he added, the two universities could share information by computer lectures or workshops.
The Iraqi faculty members said that they recognize that rebuilding the country's educational structure is long process, but Kansas States seemed a logical choice for beginning their work.
"The state grows corn, soybeans, sunflower, sorghum, alfalfa...many of the same field crops that we grow," Al-Sahaf said. "The climate [in Kansas] is relatively similar. We came here to learn so that we can be better at educating our country."
Al-Sahaf added that his group's work may also provide new opportunities for Kansas and American farmers.
"If we want wheat, why do we have to go to Australia?" he asked. "We can tell our officials, ‘go to Kansas. They'll send you the best quality and value of wheat.'"
Kansas State University, Pork magazine