By Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 29, 2008 - Many Afghans are subsistence farmers who teeter on the edge of malnutrition or starvation every year. In Afghanistan's Konar province, one of the most violent provinces in the country, an American provincial reconstruction team is working with the Afghan government on a unique solution to help feed its people: bees.
Experts from the Konar Department of Agriculture maintain a number of small beehives throughout Konar Valley and are working to expand the reach of the pollinators. They hope not only to breed more bees, but also to build more beehives to be distributed among more farmers, officials said. With the help of the Konar PRT and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Afghan government has been distributing sugar to existing beehives to increase their population.
The Afghan government has provided more than 300 pounds of sugar to local beekeepers and farmers, officials said. Government officials expressed the hope that with pollination help from the bees in the spring, crop yields in the immediate area might go up by at least 10 percent.
The idea is not as far-fetched as it may sound. Beekeeping is a $9 billion industry in the United States, according to the University of Georgia's Web site. Bee hives are bought, sold and rented out across the country.
In Canada, if a blueberry farmer hopes to increase profit, he reportedly can get a return of $41 per every dollar spent on renting bees for pollination, and an apple farmer can get upwards of $192 per dollar. The Konar government hopes to get a similar return for its investment.
Through pollination, bees have been known to increase crop yields by as much as 25 percent. Other plants, such as almond trees, must have a pollinator to even produce.
Bees also produce raw materials for the Afghan people to trade and barter. Honey is an obvious product of successful hives, and is especially valuable in Afghanistan because it is one of the few agricultural products that does not have to be stored in cold temperatures. Honey can be easily consumed, sold or exported to nearby provinces.
Beeswax -- a primary component in candles, cosmetics, polishes and pharmaceuticals -- also is a valuable commodity, officials noted.
(Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle serves with the Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team.)