By Army Sgt. Warren W. Wright Jr.
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 16, 2009 - In the 1970s, Afghanistan was a major exporter of produce, but since the 1979 Soviet invasion and the subsequent Taliban rule after the Soviets left the country, the nation's agricultural output has decreased dramatically. Key to the nation's recovery is a self-sustaining economy based on agriculture, said Army Maj. James W. Thompson, an engineering advisor with the Tennessee agribusiness development team.
To help with that effort, the Defense Department worked with the National Guard to deploy agribusiness development teams to Afghanistan to help Afghans rebuild their agriculture infrastructure.
The program is about two years old. It started with just a handful of states in the first year and now has 14 states participating, Thompson, a Louisville, Ky., native, said.
The Tennessee team is responsible for Paktia province and parts of western Paktika province. The team, all volunteers from the Tennessee Army National Guard, includes 12 soldiers with an agriculture background and a security team.
Afghanistan is about 100 years behind the United States in agriculture production, Army Sgt. Robert Moore, the agronomist specialist for the team, said. Three decades of war have resulted in major losses in agriculture production. The country once exported about 60 percent of its apple crop and a vast majority of other produce; now it imports much of its produce from Pakistan and other countries, officials said.
The team helps Afghans rebuild by assessing needs and implementing projects to meet those needs. "We try to figure out how we can help best improve what they already have," Thompson said. The team has about 35 projects under way, he added.
The projects range from building new greenhouses and rechanneling waterways for irrigation to expanding the beekeeping industry that is vital to the pollination of plants, said Moore, a Lavinia, Tenn., native.
The projects in Paktia province will add to the quality of life for Afghans while increasing income and revitalizing part of the agriculture sector, he said. However, he added, people may not see a change right away.
"Future [agribusiness teams] will come behind us and continue with those, as well as start their own projects with the assessments we've done," Moore said. Some of the projects will take two to three years to bring about change, he explained, but they're designed to have a long-term effect.
"I do believe that the mission of the [agribusiness team] is the main effort for the success for Afghanistan," he said.
(Army Sgt. Warren W. Wright Jr. serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)