CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University professor will soon begin an odyssey to help an ancient country chart a new economic course.

Neil Forsberg, a professor of animal sciences and the director of OSU's International Degree Program, will leave Corvallis in August to begin a two-year assignment as head of the Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman.

Oman, about the size of Kansas and located on the eastern tip of the Saudi peninsula, is a combination of the ancient and the cutting edge. Its history stretches back centuries, when Oman had a trade route throughout the Middle East and owned the island of Zanzibar, whose name evokes the incense and mystery of the Arabian nights.

Culturally, the country was cut off from outside civilization until a vast pool of oil was discovered there in the late 1960s. As a result, its populace enjoys a high standard of living and is considered politically moderate.

Forsberg, who conducts research through OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station, will establish a program to evaluate and improve the nutritional content of the livestock feed used in the arid, hot land. He also will help boost Oman's animal agriculture program by establishing a veterinary curriculum at the university.

This opportunity not only is an adventure, Forsberg said, it is a chance to help a country whose economy largely depends on a fast-dwindling supply of oil.

The country currently must import about 40 percent of its food, a situation likely to cause problems in the future. Oman therefore must bolster its abilities to produce its own food.

Sultan Qaboos University is a vital resource toward that goal. It is the top university in Oman, with 6,000 undergraduates and an international faculty, housed in a multi-cultural village near campus.

The faculty includes experts from around the globe there to help improve Oman's animal agriculture production, which currently focuses on better production of goats, sheep, dairy cows, beef poultry and camels. These animals need better nutrition and veterinary programs to understand livestock diseases and heat stresses.

Oman also has a long history of horse rearing and falconry.

Forsberg sees the job in Oman as a rare opportunity to broaden his understanding of a region often misunderstood by Western culture, while making a significant contribution.

"I would never have this type of opportunity in the United States," Forsberg said. "It is an exciting and rare opportunity."

Forsberg's wife, Azizah, is a native of Malaysia and is Muslim, so the couple's daughter, Amelia, 11, and son, Johan, 3, already are familiar with some aspects of Omani culture.

Although the country is ruled by one man, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the citizens of the Muslim nation enjoy civil liberties such as the universal right to vote and equal opportunity to education and due process of law. Woman drive and do not veil their faces as they do in Saudi Arabia.

Forsberg said he is hoping to establish lasting links between Qaboos University and OSU, especially in the areas of veterinary science, so that the exchanges of information can continue after his assignment in Oman is complete.

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Neil Forsberg, 541-737-1918