Oregon Live
Philomath man tries to help rebuild agriculture in Kosovo

01/14/00


CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) -- Herschel Weeks' job does not involve punching a clock or writing on a blackboard.

The former Oregon State University instructor, now a consultant with the school, jets off to foreign countries to help people grow food, plan for the future and rebuild their lives.

Recently, he returned to Oregon from his latest international project: boosting agriculture production in the Serbian province of Kosovo, devastated by a war that leveled much of the area's farm-dependent economy and workforce.

He spent four months in Kosovo overseeing the short-term relief phase of the $18 million project for Portland-based Mercy Corps International.

While some experts talk about the importance of repairing the Kosovo's economy in order to bring stability to the region, Weeks says it in a more down-to-earth way: "If people can't eat, they get real grumpy. If they have unrest, it spreads."

In little more than a week, Weeks will go back to Kosovo to help with the next two phases of the project, which are intended to secure long-term, successful farming practices in the battered province.

He'll join those projects as a permanent agricultural consultant for the United Nations.

Weeks lives in Philomath with his wife, Barbara, a teacher. The couple has two children.

He undertook projects in Egypt and Mexico after earning his doctorate at Iowa State in agricultural and extension education.

He taught at OSU for eight years before the university tapped him in the late 1990s for his experience with international projects. He got the job of director of outreach development for the Office of International Research and Development.

Although he's now a consultant, Weeks remains a part of the university. He's got a telephone there and e-mail, too.

"I expect to come back to work full time with OSU," he said.

In the meantime, he will continue to direct his efforts at international projects.

In Kosovo, Weeks is overseeing farm planning, policymaking and shipping.

The project has supplied thousands of families with food-preserving items such as plastic barrels and pots, hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm equipment, thousands of greenhouses and hundreds of water pumps.

But his work isn't just about planting seeds and shipping wheat.

He's also determined to bring the virtues of innovation and a market economy to a place where oppression claimed freedom long ago.

For example, Weeks said, 25 tractors were imported to begin plowing fields in early September, when rainfall was perfect. But centralized planning in Belgrade told residents not to break ground before Sept. 20. No one had thought to plow earlier because it had always been done the other way, Weeks said.

"It's a communist country, and they don't have the background to think like we do," he said.

There's more hard work ahead, Weeks said, but life in Kosovo is improving.

It's the kind of work Weeks craves. He said he prefers to not be in a classroom but instead out helping people "so they can have bread on the table next fall."




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