Path Home Shows 2010 Show Archive July 2010 Show 1027 Afghanistan Ag

Afghanistan Ag

Afghanistan is a largely agrarian, complex country that has struggled through decades of poverty and strife.
Afghanistan Ag

Afghanistan Ag

Show Dates

Show 1027: Afghanistan Ag

Air date: July 4, 2010



Rob:  Well roughly the size of Texas, Afghanistan is a complex country that has struggled through decades of poverty and strife.

Largely agrarian, the country is made up of remote tribes that are often suspicious of outsiders.

Which has made the work of a military agribusiness team from Oklahoma, both challenging and rewarding.

Their story is one we've been following for more than a year, and today, we bring you an update.  Here’s our Courtenay DeHoff.

Courtenay DeHoff:  In a country that's been devastated by centuries of fighting, the US military is planting seeds of hope.

Sixty Oklahomans are leading the way and hoping to revitalize Afghanistan with improved methods in agriculture.

[sounds of bagpipes]

Surrounded by the wail of Scottish bagpipes,

members of the Army National Guard marched into OSU’s Wes Watkins Center ready for deployment.

Male Voice:  I appreciate every one of you, whether you’ve been there or not, you’ve done a great service for your state.

Courtenay:  The ceremony preparing both the soldiers and families for a year of separation.

Sixty Oklahomans headed to Afghanistan as part of the newly formed 45th Agribusiness Development Team.  Colonel Mike Chase heads the battalion.

Mike Chase:  Since Afghanistan is a huge agrarian culture, 80% of their population takes part in some kind of agricultural endeavor and so developing that part of the economy is an important part of stabilizing and developing the country.

Courtenay:  A culmination of more than a year of work.

Last summer the Oklahoma National Guard spent a week on Oklahoma State’s campus getting a crash course in agriculture.

From learning to use the latest technology to studying invasive species of plants to assisting with animal harvesting, it was all a part of being prepared for their next deployment.

Members of the 145th hit the ground rolling, arriving in Afghanistan early this year.

Mike:  It’s a pretty harsh environment, the uh, but we think in some of our efforts that we’ve been working, we think that uh, we’re making a difference.   And of course, our main mission here is not necessarily to show the people what we’ve done because we’re trying to work through the established local governments here.

Courtenay:  Colonel Chase says their work here is more than just teaching, but establishing a sustainable way of life.

Mike:  And we’re trying to assist them so that they can be the ones that their people look to for continued assistance with their problems.

Courtenay:  Troops are working with the Afghan government to establish an extension service similar to the one developed in this country more than a century ago; giving Afghan farmers hands-on advice.

Lieutenant Christopher Thomas is an Agronomist and Wheat Subject Matter Expert.

Christopher Thomas:  We’re training Ag Extension Agents on, on appropriate mechanization with the small two-wheel tractor, and also on conservation agriculture, strip-tillage and reduced-tillage agriculture in order to make better use and maximize the use of irrigation water that they have available; and also to improve quality of soils over time by increasing the amount of residue that gets incorporated and stays in the soil.

Courtenay:  American soldiers and Afghan farmers are working to improve farm ground in extremely harsh conditions.

Mike:  The average Afghan, they, they may or may not be touched by those particular efforts, but every Afghan is tied to agriculture; because for one thing, they all eat.  Besides just being all consumers of agricultural products, about 80% of ‘em or more, depends upon what district you’re in.  Eighty plus percent of ‘em are involved in some way of, of agricultural pursuits.  Whether it be purely subsistence farming or whether it be for profit or for, you know, livelihood; so agriculture is a, is a huge endeavor in this country.

Courtenay:  But it’s not just about the soil.

Members of the National Guard are also bringing new technology to the university.

Colonel Chase and members of the Agribusiness Team work with university officials.

Technology such as the Internet, that can help keep them up-to-date academically with books.

Mike:  They just don’t have that capability now and it’s mostly due to the lack of resources that they posses; so we’re going to do a surf project, get ‘em the generators that will provide ‘em the power, and then we’ll do a grant to get them the Internet capability.

Basically they told us they wanted books in English and the reason is that by the time a textbook is translated into Patch 2 and put out on the market, it’s 10 to 15 years old.  They ask us for books in English because they knew that they would be current.  So they’re trying to step up and catch up with other places and other universities.

Courtenay:  Universities that can provide an education, given the resources; education that helps Afghan students improve skills such as farming.

In one province civilians are being taught how to double-plant hybrid fruit trees with wheat.

Lieutenant Colonel Sanders:  Some new and improved ways of wheat cultivation and been working on some fruit tree planting initiative that he has and advising him on those and also assisting him; and so we’re going to begin a fruit tree planting campaign across the entire province that we’re in here probably within the next week or so.

We never have antifreeze.

Courtenay:  Everything being done is all in hopes that the higher standards of living being taught will plow the way towards more support for the local government and less for the Taliban.

The agribusiness team is doing a lot more than just improving farming methods; they are responsible for building grain mills, launching veterinary practices, operating fish hatcheries, and developing canning and juicing factories.