ISLAMABAD - Thirty Pakistani government officials and agricultural industry representatives have completed a six-year US Department of Agriculture (USDA) sponsored training programme.

According to a press release, the ceremony was held to mark the completion of training programme. The ceremony was presided over by David Williams, Agriculture Counselor, US Embassy Islamabad, Muhammad Tariq Khan, Deputy Director Department of Plant Protection, Karachi, and Dr Babar Bajwa, CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International) Director Pakistan and West Asia.

The USDA, with support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has invested more than $4 million in this six-year distance learning project initiative to support the government of Pakistan’s efforts to increase agricultural trade. The programme’s goal is to strengthen Pakistan’s ability to comply with international trade rules to increase Pakistan’s commodity exports, and help Pakistan to prevent the importation of harmful plant diseases and pests.

Since 2011, the USDA and partners, CABI and Texas A&M University, have joined hands to create a distance learning project to bolster Pakistan’s sanitary and phytosanitary (also known as SPS) skills and knowledge. With interactive workshops supplemented by online training modules, the USDA SPS Distance Learning project is advancing Pakistan’s adoption of international plant and animal health standards by training 30 Department of Plant Protection officials and other Pakistani agricultural professionals. The workshops and training modules focus on a range of topics, including pest-risk management, market access and inspections.

“Proper regulation of exports and imports is key to meeting the demands of foreign buyers as well as protecting Pakistan’s domestic agriculture and consumers. We are hopeful that these courses will serve as a resource for Pakistan’s phytosanitary regulators,” said Agriculture Counselor David Williams. The success of these training modules in Pakistan has made SPS Distance Learning Modules a key component of a new USAID initiative called the Food Safety Network, which will expand the curriculum to include animal health and food safety and deploy them globally in several languages.

The US government supports Pakistani scientists and farmers to improve agricultural productivity in Pakistan, and to meet economic objectives and food security needs, with USAID allocating more than $350 million in funding to support Pakistan’s agricultural sector from 2002 to 2015.