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Tip of the spear

12/14/2010 @ 1:43pm

What do farming and a victory in Afghanistan have to do with one another? “A whole lot,” says Captain Peter Shinn with the Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agri-Business Development Team (ADT).

ADT is a self-contained volunteer unit made up of five to six dozen Army National Guard and Air National Guard members with backgrounds and expertise in various sectors of the agribusiness field. Its mission is to provide training and advice to Afghan universities, provincial ministries, and local farmers to increase stability and to improve opportunities for Afghanistan’s reemerging agribusiness sector. The overall goal is to help protect the population by increasing food security. ADT represents a direct connection between the concepts of national security and food security.

“An estimated 85% of Afghanis are dependent on agriculture and related agribusinesses for their livelihoods,” says Shinn. “What percentage of that total represents actual Afghan farmers varies widely by region. In Kunar Province, where the 734th ADT is stationed, we know the percentage of people who actually depend on farming or livestock production for subsistence is overwhelming.”

But in many cases, Afghan agriculture is more than a century behind U.S. agriculture. U.S. agriculture is large scale, highly mechanized, and among the most technically advanced, if not the most technically advanced, in the world. Afghan agriculture, by comparison, is extremely small scale, nearly completely unmechanized, and has yet to benefit from virtually any of the technical advances made in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

“Most of the techniques and procedures the team aims to share with Afghan farmers and livestock growers are not equipment dependent,” says Shinn. “For example, soil testing, crop-nutrient management, and recognizing plant diseases are all basic agronomic skills that can help most Afghan farmers improve their productivity quickly, without providing them with complex or costly gear. The same is true of improving their basic irrigation infrastructure or building demonstration farms.”

Because Afghanistan is overwhelmingly rural and dependent on agriculture, a disappointing yield means hunger for farmers and their families, which are typically large. Hunger breeds desperation and joining an insurgent group becomes more appealing in exchange for assurance their families will have food.

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