By Army Sgt. 1st Class George Winters
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 6, 2009 - The Tennessee National Guard's agribusiness development team is up and running as the first of its kind in Afghanistan's Paktia and Paktika provinces. Team officials said their primary mission is to set the stage for the success of the teams that come after them.
The Tennessee team includes security force members, a headquarters element and about 15 technical experts with vast knowledge and experience in agriculture and livestock.
Army Staff Sgt. Roger B. Broach, one of the team's agricultural experts, has a bachelor's degree in agriculture and years of experience in vegetable production, having grown up on a small farm. Broach's civilian experience of initiating contracts as part of his job with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has proven beneficial to the team's work, officials said, noting that negotiations with Afghan businessmen and contractors is critical.
"If we can show the people the potential of their own capabilities to provide food and income for themselves, they will accomplish it," Broach said. "[Agribusiness development teams] have the potential of assisting the Afghan people to improve their overall quality of life through more modern agricultural technology and time-proven techniques of successful farming. Another key aspect will be to merge the minds of the Afghan people with Western water management [techniques] such as irrigation, flood control and water retention."
One of the team's responsibilities is to include the various levels of the Afghan government in every activity from the national level down through the provincial, district and village levels. The team deals primarily with the provincial director of agriculture, irrigation and livestock, who provides the Guardsmen with the province's priority list and coordinates with other provincial directors. He incorporates the use of his extension workers and a training facility recently built by a provincial reconstruction team.
Army Col. Jim D. Moore, the team's commander, is responsible for everything the unit does and does not accomplish, as well as the health and welfare of the Tennessee Guardsmen, he said.
"I believe that the overall mission of the Tennessee Agribusiness Development Team is to assist in renovating the agricultural economy by providing U.S. agricultural and engineer specialists to work with their Afghan counterparts in Paktia province," Moore said.
Moore has a bachelor's degree in agriculture and, as a civilian, is an executive in commercial lending at a community bank in central Georgia.
"Successful business owners, and agriculture as a business, spend as much time on marketing and gross sales opportunities as maximizing production yields," he explained. "Also, a growing business must have access to loans and/or banking institutions."
The farmers in eastern Afghanistan have more than 3 million potential customers for their agricultural products living nearby. Understanding of central Asian buyers' desires and needs is required to make the Afghan farmers successful, team officials said.
The Tennessee Guard team has been on the ground for about 90 days and has made at least two visits to the 14 districts within its province, working with local leaders to assess the agricultural situation. So far, nearly a dozen projects for funding through the Commander's Emergency Response Program have been created and submitted.
Several of these projects are in conjunction with the Paktia University's School of Agriculture. At one time, Afghan universities were competitive with institutions across the globe, but they were almost destroyed during the Soviet occupation and the subsequent Taliban regime. The local university depends on national funding, but lacks the resources to teach the current influx of students. The Tennessee Guard agribusiness team has agreed to assist the School of Agriculture in meeting its critical needs.
The team intends to implement up to 50 projects before the duty tour ends and they are relieved by a team from Oklahoma.
Some of the projects will be completed, some will be under way, and some will be waiting for the Oklahoma Guard to begin as soon as they hit the ground, officials said, noting that since the focus is on education and agriculture infrastructure development, most of the projects have a training focus or component.
The projects the Tennessee Guard team has developed or implemented include:
-- A furniture manufacturing training course for local military-aged men, who will learn a new trade, be given the tools to start a business, and donate the furniture to the university.
-- A livestock association course that will train farmers on basic animal husbandry techniques and teach them how to create and sustain an association to allow for future projects and increase the farmers' marketing strength.
-- A beehive construction course. Bees are critical to the province's fruit tree heritage and economy, and the students will learn proper methods of hive construction. They will be allowed to keep their tools to start a new business, and the hives they produce will initially be donated to district beekeeping associations. The associations will use the new hives to encourage new members, which will directly assist the numerous apple and apricot producers across the province, as well as provide increased revenue for honey sales.
-- Para-veterinary training program with the Afghan Veterinary Association. Afghanistan does not have enough adequately trained veterinarians, and must depend heavily on less formally trained para-vets, or vet technicians. This program will provide basic technical training in laboratory procedures and artificial insemination procedures. The program also will provide updated equipment for clinics, better quality dairy cattle semen and semi-annual de-worming clinics throughout the province.
-- Training on poultry, sheep and goat husbandry for disadvantaged women and youth at the village level. The courses will provide the knowledge and resources for the students to take home their own livestock or chickens. The training will include health, feeding, breeding, and marketing components.
Many agricultural projects can take a minimum of three to five years to begin producing quantitative results, as evidenced by America's forefathers as they painstakingly improved their plant and animal genetics, team officials noted. The common factor, they added, is to be a steward of the land and enhance it through training and technology, so as part of the training, it is vital to educate the Afghans on the conservation value of their natural resources.
"Living at 7,600 feet elevation with average annual rainfall of 12 inches isn't like anything in the [southeastern United States]," Moore said. "But the farmers in Afghanistan are similar to U.S. farmers -- interested in production quality and quantities [and] producing enough to feed, clothe and educate their family. They also respond to smiles and firm handshakes."
Thirty years ago, Afghanistan was known as a leading agricultural exporter. Agriculture accounted for nearly 80 percent of their economy, but the Russian invasion and the Taliban's fight for control have taken their toll on the country's farming capabilities. Although much technology and knowledge has been lost, various agribusiness development teams, in coordination with national and international officials, hope to overcome those losses allow the Afghanistan economy to thrive again.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class George Winters serves in the Tennessee National Guard Agribusiness Development Team public affairs office.)