War on Terrorism

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Afghanistan: Missouri Agribusiness Development Team supports local Afghan agriculture

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio
U.S. Air Forces Central

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan  – Missouri National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are beginning to wrap up their mission here as part of Agribusiness Development Team V, the Missouri Guard's fifth rotation of an ADT since introducing the concept back in 2008.

The mission of ADT V was help develop and improve the country's agricultural sector by working closely with Afghan government officials, called Agriculture Extension Agents, in each district to initiate projects and educational opportunities for local farmers and business owners.

The AEAs serve as the primary link between the Afghan agricultural sector and its government.

The Soldiers and Airmen from ADT V were assigned to various elements as part of the mission, including agriculture, security and headquarters elements. The Guard members trained together for nearly a year before arriving in Afghanistan.

A unique aspect of the Missouri ADT program is the strong educational ties which have been built across Missouri's higher education system since the concept began. This allowed Team V to partner with universities during pre-deployment training for specific agricultural instruction and to build connections with technical advisers for the duration of their deployment.

Team V's intent while deployed was to support initiatives that ensure the sustainability of agricultural productivity once the ADT mission is complete.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. David Piontek, who served on the agriculture element until being selected as the senior enlisted adviser on the headquarters element, said the challenges Afghan farmers are facing are the same American farmers faced in the beginning stages of our growing nation.

"After 40 years of war, the Afghan agribusiness sector is starting at square one," Piontek said. "Americans have worked through a lot of issues to get to where we are now. Afghans don't have the agricultural processes in place that we have researched and developed, but we are in a position to pass that information along to them."

During ADT V's tenure, the Guard members worked with the Afghan AEAs to facilitate the construction of an Agriculture High School in the Rodat district and for renovations to Nangarhar University's agriculture building.

They have also started construction on an Agriculture Information Center and wheat storage building in Shinwar district and have submitted plans for a center in the Bati Kot district. The team also successfully constructed a retention wall to stop erosion in an effort to protect an aqueduct that irrigates a large section of farmland in Shinwar.

The team successfully instituted the Technical Agriculture Training Academy, which are monthly training sessions with all of Nangarhar's AEAs. Subject matter experts within ADT V hosted lectures on topics such as vegetable production, soil science, meat inspection, plant disease control, livestock health and nutrition, orchard management and value-added processing methods.

"The goal of our training academy was to build upon the technical capacity of the local agribusiness sector, while also providing opportunities for interactions and idea sharing in a community-building setting," said Army Capt. Allan Sharrock, a member of the agriculture element.

Sharrock hopes the AEAs will continue the training after ADT V departs as a forum for the local agribusiness sector to strengthen and develop the Afghan agribusiness practices.

"Incomes of the local farmers can be directly affected by small steps, such as increasing transport of goods and teaching value-added processing – with canning techniques and produce packaging – to further the longevity of a product," he said. "We tried to encourage immediate growth in the value chain, by helping farmers find new markets for their products."

As the team prepares to depart, Piontek is hopeful for Nangarhar province's future in agribusiness.

"We are working with a country that doesn't have … the [same] resources available in the U.S. like power, highway and railway systems," Piontek stated, "but, the Afghan people are hardworking and want their country to be prosperous. I see the potential here and I'm very hopeful for their future."

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