National Guard to help Afghan agriculture

ARLINGTON, Va. (12/11/2007) – Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Such is the philosophy behind the Army National Guard’s use of an all-Soldier team of agricultural experts to improve agri-business in Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard, announced Dec. 6 that the first-ever Agri-business Development Team (ADT) will deploy to eastern Afghanistan in late winter 2008.

Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Vaughn, Missouri Farm Bureau President Charles Kruse and adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard Maj. Gen. King Sidwell, have explored the idea to deploy Soldiers with agricultural expertise for over a year.

Several deployments demonstrated the important role agriculture plays in the lives of Afghanistan’s people.

Agriculture makes up 45 percent of the gross domestic product, and the industry employs over 70 percent of the population. Unfortunately, many of their practices are inefficient or seriously out of date.

“They’re where we were 300 years ago,” said Col. Martin Leppert, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 and now serves as the Afghanistan ADT coordinator.

The Guard is uniquely positioned, as Citizen-Soldiers who use these skills in their civilian lives, to begin a grassroots, cooperative effort with the universities, the farming community and the state to bring aid and education to the Afghan farmer, he said. Through the use of internet, voice communications and virtual satellite technology, the Soldiers will be able to “reach back” to agricultural expertise within the states.

The program will function with the help of the Missouri Farm Bureau, University of Missouri and the National Guard Bureau. The ADT is partnered with U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development and others to ensure maximum use of resources, efficient coordination and avoid conflict with other projects.

The ADT consists of Soldiers with a variety of agriculture expertise: from diesel mechanics who fix the farm equipment, to veterinarians. They will work to improve the irrigations systems and teach various farming techniques for fertilizing, planting, marketing, or storage of crops.

“While deployed, we will be looking for Afghan solutions for Afghan challenges,” said Capt. Doug Dunlap, executive officer of the ADT, “Everything that works for Missouri farmers may not necessarily be a solution for Afghan farmers, but we can certainly help them with some technical and infrastructure assistance.”

The larger hope of the initiative is that by improving the economy, it will help to improve security in Afghanistan. In the past, Afghanistan agricultural areas that have provided a place for Taliban to take refuge, as many peasant farmers are easily led to join the insurgency for lack of a better livelihood.

Afghanistan is the leading producer of the world’s opium, the raw material from which heroin is made, and many of its fields are lush with the crops of opium poppy plants. We want to establish agribusiness as an alternative livelihood to the easy life of growing poppies, says Leppert.

The project’s leaders have made two trips to Afghanistan to get the emerging partnership off the ground. The groups met with Afghan community leaders and local farmers to discuss the details of the partnership.

A small advance party deployed to the Jalabad area earlier this fall, and a larger team of approximately 50 people, including security forces, will deploy in late winter.

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