By Air Force Maj. Kimberly Garbett
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 22, 2009 - The people of Afghanistan's Panjshir province are reaping the benefits of being a poppy-free province. Earlier this month, more than 100 Afghans attended a good performance initiative ceremony to signify the official handover of agriculture machinery and irrigation system projects at the governor's compound in Bazarak.
The Afghan government established the initiative in 2006 to provide development assistance awards to Afghan governors who substantially reduce or eliminate poppy from their provinces.
"Our core objective is to implement projects which will improve stability with the intent that more traditional forms of private investment can resume," Lt. Col. Mark Stratton, commander of the province's provincial reconstruction team, said.
Last year, Afghan Gen. Khodaidad Khodaidad, minister of counternarcotics, awarded Gov. Haji Bahlol Bahej and the province's people $1.4 million for being a poppy-free province.
The award money was invested in five development projects identified by members of Panjshir's provincial development council, district committee, villagers and the governor. The projects included the construction of irrigation systems, structures and water supplies, provision of agro-machinery, and establishment of greenhouses and fruit orchards.
"About 95 percent of the Panjshir population is currently practicing subsistence agriculture," Greg Schlenz, the PRT's agricultural advisor from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said. "The overall objective is to provide long-term livelihood for farmers so they [can] earn more crops from their fields.
Members of the PRT spoke with pride about the accomplishments of the government and the province's people.
"Panjshir is a model province and sets the example and standard for other provinces in Afghanistan to follow," Stratton said.
(Air Force Maj. Kimberly Garbett serves in the Combined Joint Task Force 101 public affairs office.)