Friday, December 09, 2011

Afghanistan: Kansas Guard's ambitious new market sells hope to desperate locals

By Army Staff Sgt. Luke Graziani
Combined Joint Task Force 1 - Afghanistan

LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (12/8/11) - Just off the busy Afghan Highway 7, near the village of Gerdy Katz, a little market has emerged out of the dust and debris. Although small in stature, the shop is bursting with promise and hope for the villagers.

 The market is only the most recent, albeit essential, addition to a list of achievements the Kansas National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team and their Afghan counterparts have struggled to reach together.

Two years ago the ADT cleared 10 Jaribs - roughly 50 acres - of land adjacent to Combat Outpost Xio Haq.

That initiative resulted in a boom of farming and agriculture to include greenhouses erected on-site, a well-supplied irrigation system and a citrus fruit tree and nut tree orchard.

Roughly 120 farmers were trained in green house technology, soil analysis, drip irrigation, pest management and animal husbandry.

 The culmination of all these projects was the ribbon cutting ceremony of the market, owned and operated by Wasir Kahn, a local Malik. Kahn and his team of laborers worked hard to see the fruits of their labor evolve to a business that would help bring hope to their district.

“Because it's close to the highway, the people of Kabul and Jalalabad, they want to buy something from here, so we have market here,” Kahn said.

 The closeness to the highway, combined with a lack of anything else like it in the area may spell success for this long awaited market.

“One of the keys to this marketplace is that there really is not much in the way of commercial, particularly commercial agriculture, products in this part of the district,” said Phil Blake, U.S. Department of Agriculture agricultural advisor. “This is really the perfect place in this western part of the district to have a facility where we can have a diversity of products.”

At the moment the humble market can only boast having poultry selling services, tailoring services and fresh locally grown produce. It holds the potential for growth to other areas.

“We were recently funded to set up a micro dairy here,” Blake said. “This will be the only place in this part of district where people can stop and pick up fresh cheese and yogurt-milk products.”

All of the perishable products for the local villages were brought in by trucks in the past. Before the market, getting fresh products were not cost effective.

“We go to Jalalabad or Methar Lam city so we spend more money as a transportation cost,” said Kahn, referring to the way they used to conduct business.

“For example, 1 kilogram of sugar you buy [at] 100 Afghani, but we spend 300 Afghani here for transportation cost, so 1 kilogram was almost 400 [Afghani]. Now [that] you [can] buy the sugar here, the transportation cost will sever.”

The market has already been a success story just by being there. Locals can enjoy the benefits of fresh products, but not have to dig as deeply into their pockets.

 The Gerdy Katz villagers are expected to take this development on their own to grow and expand it as their village expands and grows. The future is in their hands.

“The most important thing here is this district has now been declared transitioned,” Blake said.
“We are seeing more and more of a pull-back of advisors and U.S. forces here, so in the coming months the Afghans are pretty much going to be on their own,” he said. “We see this as a perfect opportunity for them to stand up for themselves and stand up the business here that is already proving to be successful.”

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