War on Terrorism

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kentucky Guard unit works to make Afghan agriculture cream of the crop

By Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Pomrenke
ISAF Joint Command

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (3/18/11) – Members of the Kentucky National Guard's Agribusiness Development team are working with Afghan farmers and livestock owners to increase productivity to better feed their families, themselves and their communities.

The Kentucky ADT has teamed up with Afghans throughout Parwan, Panjshir and Kapisa provinces to educate, train and develop new ways to increase production.

"Some of the [projects] we are helping with are improved seed and fertilizers in the area," said Lt. Col. Robert Hamm, Parwan agriculture leader for ADT Team 2.

The teams do not just hand out free supplies and equipment, but they teach the Afghans and agricultural leaders how to properly use them. This is meant to ensure the projects they have begun will last long after coalition forces leave.

"Every project we do, we want to be sustainable," Hamm said. "Which means once we close a project, the Afghan government is able to sustain the process going on."

Creating sustainable agriculture means working closely with Afghan and other agencies, too. With the ADT being spread over three different provinces, they must work with every asset they have to see the most positive results. This requires a close partnership with the director of agriculture, irrigation and livestock, Abdul Farzam.

Farzam is responsible for developing and coordinating efforts of the various leaders and developers throughout the region. He and his predecessor have allowed ADT personnel to mentor leadership and local farmers at his offices near Charikar.

"We started a started a training session twice a month at the DAIL compound to teach forage management, bee keeping, raising poultry, finance and setting budgets," Hamm said. "We have also worked with him in developing the private sector; working to ensure that we mentor the DAIL and [that] he understands how the markets will help the people of his province."

This work in the private sector includes securing a grant to help purchase storage and processing equipment for soybeans from the area. Last year, there were approximately 500 tons of soybeans produced in the provinces.

"The production is there," Farzam said during a planning meeting March 5 at the Korean PRT compound. "But what they sell, they sell. What they don't sell rots or is just thrown away."

Training and equipping the Afghan producers throughout the province is just what the ADT aims to do while here in Afghanistan. The composition of their unit allows them to maximize their efforts.

"There are 10 agriculture-specific guys and two engineers," Hamm said. "Mainly your civilian background is what you do. We have a soils guy, two vocational agriculture education guys, an entomologist, or 'bug guy,' a bee specialist, a veterinarian … a security force of about 32, who are the ones who get us out, and four medics."

While Hamm's primary role is coordinating with the multiple agencies involved to make sure no one is duplicating efforts, he feels that everyone's role is important to the success of their mission.

"We're brought up to the agribusiness team mainly by our civilian skill sets," he said. "I think the uniqueness of the National Guard is beneficial to the people of Afghanistan because you have military personnel who can go travel in more austere areas, but you also pick up those special skills.

"A couple of the guys teach agriculture every day of the week back in the states or you have guys like myself who are engineers and work with building and construction and can get that expertise that you may not find in the regular Army."

The unique talents and varied skills have led the ADT to many a meeting and training event with their Afghan counterparts. Through these meetings, they are learning that there are many skilled farmers just looking to further their knowledge.

"The best part of the deployment has been the direct contact you get with the local people," said Hamm. "I've met some great people here in Afghanistan. The people seem to really want to learn: they're knowledge-hungry."

Although Team 2 of Kentucky's ADT is preparing to head back home, Hamm feels that this tour of duty has been a rewarding one.

"These teams have some great individuals," he said. "Kentucky has dedicated five years here, and we're in our third. Working here with the USDA and trying to get the projects implemented has been a great accomplishment. I think the people respect what we're trying to do for them."

With training, supplies and equipment, the Kentucky ADT is helping to shape Afghan agricultural professionals into the cream of the crop.

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