Sept. 23, 2009

Nick Van Berkum, Sociology, 515-294-2179,

Eric Imerman to Receive Alumni Merit Award

Eric Imerman to Receive Alumni Merit Award

Ames, Iowa -- Eric Imerman enjoys working with farmers and working to improve other people’s lives.

The Iowa State sociology alum will tell you those are the two things he enjoys the most about working overseas.

Imerman spent two years working as an ag advisor in war-torn Afghanistan. There he worked with the ministry of Agriculture to promote better governance and taught the administrators to better serve their people.

It takes a special set of skills to be successful as an ag advisor not only in a foreign country, but also in a war zone.

“I came from a strong farm background.” Imerman says. “I have the ability to walk on a farm and understand the system right away. If you are connected with agriculture it is really easy to see what is wrong and where you can improve the farm.”

Imerman’s extensive work overseas with farmers has earned him the prestigious Alumni Merit Award from Iowa State University. The award will be presented on October 26 at the Iowa State University Alumni Association Honors and Awards Ceremony. The Alumni Merit Award is to recognize ISU alumni for outstanding contributions to human welfare that transcends purely professional accomplishments and bring honor to the university.

In January of this year, Imerman switched jobs and moved to Azerbaijan where he is the Agriculture Training Advisor for a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) project working to set up a system to help farmers with their information needs.

Imerman and his team work to increase farm production and get more products in the value chain. They work with five types of farmers including: dairy, fish, pomegranate, hazelnut and apple.

Much of his work in Azerbaijan is reminiscent of his early work as a research assistant for emeritus professor, Dr. Steve Padgitt. Imerman and Padgitt worked on local watershed and wetland projects, looking at how farmers adopted certain technologies. 

“When I worked for Steve Padgitt, it was very easy for me to open the door and talk to farmers.  I can do it in the U.S. and I can do it overseas.” Imerman says. “In Azerbaijan I am trying to get farmers to adopt certain technologies that they don’t already have.”

When the Soviet System collapsed in the 90’s, many of the farms were abandoned.  Thousands of hectors of pomegranate fields were deserted and unkempt.  Imerman and his team hired trainers and taught them proper farmer techniques.  The trainers, in turn, taught local farmers how to prune, fertilize and how to plant new trees in the area.
One of the biggest challenges he faces is not knowing the language and experiencing the culture first hand.  They are always accompanied with an interpreter when they are working in the fields.

“A lot of times the best development happens when you are sitting under a shade tree conversing with farmers.” Imerman says.  “I don’t speak the language, but I know how to talk to farmers.”

They started the training process in February and now many of the pomegranate fields are well taken care of and the farms will have a great harvest in the fall.

“You see these fields in full bloom, and you think, wow, I have made a difference in at least twenty farmers’ lives.”  Imerman says.