ISLAMABAD - US ambassador to Pakistan David Hale has advised the Pakistanis to believe in themselves, as the nation prepares to celebrate the Pakistan Day.

In a message on Pakistan Day, the US envoy said: “Believe in yourself, believe in your future. Pakistan zindababad (long live Pakistan).” Greeting the nation on the happy occasion, Hale said: “America’s relationship with Pakistan goes back to 70 years. We will continue to work with you on our shared interests in harmony, stability and prosperity.”

On the other hand, the US embassy said the US Department of Agriculture with support from the US Agency for International Development had invested more than $4 million in a six-year distance learning project initiative to support the government of Pakistan’s efforts to increase agricultural trade. “This programme’s goal is to strengthen Pakistan’s ability to comply with international trade rules to increase gross domestic product through greater commodity exports,” the statement issued by the US embassy said.

Since 2011, USDA and partners, CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International) and Texas A&M University, had joined forces to create a distance learning project to bolster Pakistan’s sanitary and phytosanitary (also known as SPS) skills and knowledge, the statement added.

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, it said.

The workshops and training modules focus on a range of topics, including pest-risk management, market access, treatments, and inspections. “Proper regulation of exports and imports is a 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 Counsellor 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 statement said.

Agriculture is Pakistan’s second largest sector, accounting for more than 21 percent of GDP. It remains by far the largest employer, with 46 percent of the labour force working in the sector. For the nearly 62 percent of the Pakistani population in rural areas, agriculture is a vital part of daily life.

“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 fiscal year 2002 to 2015,” the embassy statement said.

Separately, the Australian High Commission celebrated Australia Day in Spring 2017 in Islamabad showcasing a musical performance that highlighted the shared and diverse cultural heritage of Pakistan and Australia.