Iowa Public Television


Purdue's Specialized Ag Training Helps Guard Aid Afghan Farmers

posted on May 15, 2009

(AP) - After decades of turmoil, some farmers in Afghanistan are getting a helping hand from an Indiana National Guard unit trained to help them boost productivity.

The 60-member unit, trained at Purdue University, arrived in March in Afghanistan's Khost province, along the border with Pakistan.

The unit's mission is to help farmers regain the knowledge lost in the years since the former Soviet Union's 1979 invasion, the subsequent civil war and the 2001 U.S. invasion that ended years of Taliban rule.

"A lot of generational knowledge that gets passed down from father to son on different ways and successful ways to do agriculture has really been severed," said Maj. Shawn Gardner, the 1-19th Agribusiness Development Team's operations officer.

Gardner's team is made up of Hoosier farmers and people who have degrees in agricultural specialties. They're teaching Afghans how to trellis grape vines, making them more productive. And they've spent time analyzing the soil and worked on a formula using nearby compounds that can enrich topsoil so farmers can bypass expensive imported soil nutrients.

Female members of the unit have been working with Afghan women to raise chickens more efficiently inside their walled compounds. They're also helping them manage fruit and nut orchards more effectively.

Although there are cultural barriers to overcome, Gardner, who grew up on a farm near Evansville, said there's a common bond between the Indiana and Afghan farmers.

"You share the same love of the land," he said.

The 1-19th is the first of several National Guard agribusiness teams to be trained at Purdue and then sent to Afghanistan. Units from Kansas, Texas, Tennessee and Missouri are preparing for similar deployments, spending weeks at Purdue to get specialized training.

The unit's members hold degrees in soil science, animal husbandry, marketing, forestry and orchards. But their mission is to apply those skills in fields far different from Indiana's.

During their Purdue training, the unit learned how to plant wheat by tossing seeds into rocky soil. They also were instructed in the skills needed to grow crops on 1-acre plots that have little water and no irrigation system.

A typical Hoosier farm is 1,200 to 1,500 acres and supports one family, but a typical Afghan farm is half an acre to two acres, said agriculture professor Kevin McNamara, the project's leader at Purdue.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said improving the lives of Afghanistan's civilian population is a critical component of the U.S. military mission. He said that involves improving the state of agriculture and smoothing relations with civilians.

Tags: agriculture education farmers military National Guard news