Farming Iraq

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Patrick Broyles hopes his experience will help in the Middle East

EMPORIA, Kan. - Soil conservation and range management expert Patrick Broyles hopes his experience working with Indian country farmers will help their Iraqi counterparts to improve crops in Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

Just how the planting knowledge of generations of American Indian elders will fit into the 5,000-year-old traditions of the ;'cradle of civilization'' won't be clear until he gets to know the Iraqi farmers, but both groups love to put their hearts into the soil to produce vegetables and fruits for the survival of their nations.

From 2001 to 2005, Broyles worked on plant issues at the Manhattan (Kansas) Plant Materials Center with about a dozen American Indian tribes in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That experience with Native nations will help Broyles, whose maternal grandfather had ties to the Cherokee and Creek tribes in Oklahoma and to the Choctaw Nation, to work with local officials in Iraqi provinces.

''I am used to working with the official government of a tribe - every tribe has an officer - and most tribes have elders and respected people who guide the tribe on certain issues,'' said Broyles, a former military translator who now works for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

''My experience working with elders will help me in Iraq because a lot of villages are socially like Indian tribes in America - they have elders who guide them. I will be working with Iraqi elders to find out their needs and the best way to address those needs.''

On loan to the U.S. State Department, Broyles will be an agriculture adviser on one of numerous Provincial Reconstruction Teams that include experts in many fields.

After spending most of July at U.S. State Department training in Washington, D.C., Broyles will arrive in Iraq in late July to join a PRT. The classes include Foreign Affairs Counter Intelligence Training, security training and PRT orientation.

Steven L. Farley, who was an employee of the State Department and a member of an embedded PRT in Sadr City, was one of the victims June 24 when a Shiite suicide bomber killed 11 people in north Bagdad, including four Americans.

Eleven others, including a U.S. soldier, were injured during the bombing of a meeting of a local district council that was preparing for an election. It was the first time a PRT member, who was also a state department employee, was killed in Iraq, although a USDA forest service PRT employee was killed in Afghanistan in March 2007.

Broyles, an Eagle and Explorer scout who taught mountain climbing as a teen in New Mexico, is no stranger to danger.

In going to Iraq, Broyles has again mustered the same courage it took to serve his country during the Vietnam War. At age 20, Broyles decoded secret messages for the U.S. Army Security Agency - a job that gave him migraines. Trading cryptanalysis for becoming a courier and translator for military intelligence, Broyles saw ''lots of different parts of Vietnam.'' Broyles' missions included the emergency interrogation of a captured North Vietnamese colonel.

''He was badly wounded and they didn't think he could make the helicopter ride back and they sent me to him to see what we could find,'' said Broyles.

Despite his youthful bravery, Broyles' mother told him when he was a child not to speak of his American Indian roots fearing he'd be sent to one of the notorious boarding schools. As an adult, he has embraced his heritage including serving the past five years as chair of the Society of American Indian Government Employees.

''I identify with my Native heritage considerably,'' he said. ''I think it's important because I want to reclaim what my family had lost.''

Broyles is believed to be the first American Indian PRT member to assist Iraqi farmers.

''We are very excited to have Patrick and other minority groups as part of the group going over,'' said Larry Trouba, special projects officer for Iraq and Afghanistan in the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Development Resources and Disaster Assistance Division. ''We're very happy to be sending someone with Patrick's experience and background.''

Divorced ''with no social life,'' Broyles said he was ready for some adventure as he turned 58 on July 5.

''I don't have a wife or a steady girlfriend, so it's a good time for me to go - there is nothing to tie me down,'' said Broyles, the father of one son, Joshua, who joined the U.S. Army Reserves after graduating last year from high school.

''We are a very conservative patriotic family,'' Broyles said.

''I am proud of him,'' said Joshua Broyles, 19, in the Army Reserves.

''He's always seemed proud of his time in the Army and it seems like he'd enjoy going to Iraq because of that,'' Joshua Broyles said. ''I am pretty confident about the situation in Iraq right now and statistically the chances of something happening are pretty low.''

Patrick Broyles said his son ''is concerned that it's not like going to the Caribbean, but the odds are I will be fine.''

''Joshua told me he was very proud of me for going to Iraq,'' said the equally proud father.

Editor's note: When possible, Patrick Broyles will be filing articles and photos from Iraq for Indian Country Today during his year-long deployment.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Teams include experts in many fields and their projects vary depending on the needs of a given province. About 24 PRT agriculture advisers have been deployed to Iraq since 2006. Each team consists of between five and a dozen or more experts in various fields. Although exact figures were not available, various budgets appear to show that PRTs have pumped billions of dollars of training, equipment, man hours and other services into Iraq and Afghanistan through the U.S. military. PRTs travel in ''military convoys, wear body armor and have the military right there protecting them,'' said Larry Trouba, special projects officer for Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service Development Resources and Disaster Assistance Division. ''While I believe things are improving, there is significant security risk.'' Projects have included establishing farmer organizations, starting agricultural extension projects for advice, managing natural resources, rebuilding institutional capacity to clean and maintain irrigation canals, recreating veterinary infrastructure and ensuring animal health, USDA FAS officials said. An important part of success will be gaining the trust of Iraqi farmers, so soil conservation and range management expert Patrick Broyles will learn to speak the local dialect. ''You have to convince them that by doing it a certain way they are going to increase their bushels per acre as well as lower their expenses,'' he said. While Iraqi deserts are well-known, the country's fertile river valleys can produce lush crops using decades-old technology and methods. Some Iraqi farmers ''have not been updated on modern ways - not to say they all aren't - but a lot still do everything by hand hoeing and hand planting,'' Broyles said. ''Some have small tractors and more modern equipment.'' Farming is the second-largest provider of jobs in Iraq only behind the oil industry, said James Conley, USDA PRT liaison officer in the Office of Provincial Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi crops include wheat, barley, small grains, rice, date palm and pomegranates; the country's livestock includes 17 million sheep, followed by goats, cattle and water buffalo. Conley noted that ''for 30 years, Iraqi veterinarians were cut off from the latest technology. Their skills were not up to Western standards.'' To address this need, he said, ''One PRT agriculture adviser implemented some training classes for veterinarians, helped purchased some basic equipment and textbooks, and is coordinating monthly classes.'' After thousands of years of irrigation directly from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, Broyles expects salts (sodium and magnesium) and other contaminants to be built up in the soil - that's common in desert areas where pure water is not available. Solutions include planting alkaline-tolerant crops or adding organic matter, like the ample amount of livestock dung that's expected to be available, he said. Broyles said he'll offer advice on crop rotation, soil conservation, irrigation and other farming and livestock issues - while being sensitive to the Iraqi culture even if it clashes with his own views. ''One problem is adequate food,'' he said. ''Chickens are a good source of cheap protein.'' And while ''women are taking over the family-oriented chicken industry,'' he said Iraqi custom dictates ''we talk to their brothers, fathers and husbands.'' ''We don't just go up and begin conversations with women like we do in the United States,'' Broyles said. ''We'd get in trouble and the women would be in trouble.'' That sensitivity extends to even the basics on a farm because the teams are there to offer advice, not change the Iraqi way of life or social structure. ''We don't dictate to them how to do anything - we advise them in more efficient ways,'' Broyles said. While the war in Iraq and the violence capture headlines, U.S. officials believe that the PRTs are vital to the success of the mission including capturing the hearts of the average Iraqi. A recent uptick in car bombings and other violence in Iraq doesn't deter the PRT agriculture advisers, who volunteered for the assignment knowing it could be dangerous. The PRTs are joint military and civilian teams with the military providing the security, Trouba said. ''It's important to provide a civilian agency to help with the development and growth of Iraq,'' said Virginia Wolf, deputy director for Development Resources and Disaster Assistance in USDA's FAS. ''Our advisers all believe they have a real role in providing this technical assistance to the people of Iraq.''