Wednesday, 1 December 2010

ADT - an isle of sanity

I cannot say enough good things about the Agribusiness Development Teams that work in Afghanistan. These National Gaurd units come over with both a security and an agricultural unit, and work exclusively on agriculture development and education. The Kansas, Iowa and Missouri units work in, respectively, the provinces of Laghman, Kunar and Nangarhar, and I feel fortunate to have been able to work with all three of these as their strategy of education and government capacity development makes more sense than just building a bunch of stuff the Afghans may say they want but don't really know how to use. The top picture shows Kansas ADT COL Ditamo clowning with CPT McMullen, LTC Stockfleth, the Ag team leader for Iowa (and classmate of my wife's!) and LTC Legg, an attorney who serves as the Missouri Ag Teams lead. Both Kansas and Missouri are on their 4th unit here, enormously helpful for the continuity of their operations.

Courtyard and lunch tent at the Serena Hotel

The Serena hotel is Afghanistan's five star hotel (heard room rates were $800 a night) and while the conference room where the ag shura was held was stuffy and poorly ventilated (no wonder they test us for TB when we leave the country) the outside courtyard and lunch tent
was beautiful. The food was also outstanding - I had to go back to the dessert bar twice!

Ag Shura - day 4 at the Serena Hotel

The Ag Shura concluded on

Sunday, Nov. 28th with a large gathering of all the Provincial Ag Directors and their staff as well the Afghan national agriculture directors and coalition partners in agriculture development. Amb. Eickenberry and USDA Deputy Undersecretary Darcy Vetter spoke gave introductory and concluding remarks as well as Afghanistan's top Minister of Agriculture Min. Rahimi. The top picture shows Minister Rahimi and Undersecretary Vetter conducting am Afghan press conference during a break in the Ag Shura.

Bonfire at Camp Integrity

Most of the Ag Shura attendees stayed at Camp Integrity, a security contractor camp located near the airport. Its a new complex with nice buildings, great food, and single rooms. On the third night of our stay we had a bonfire and roasted Marshmellows for S'mores. From the Top, Rich Lasko (aka The Professor) gives lessons on the proper technique, Neal Westgerdes follows FSIS approved methodology for proper time / temperature control to assure food safety, and Dane, Gary, Rich and Bill enjoy the heat from the campfire on a chilly evening.

The gang of 6

Out of 8 of us that deployed together to Afghanistan on Dec. 3, 6 of us were at the Ag Shura. This group represents soil science, conservation, forestry, animal husbandry, veterinary medicine, and orchard management. Our group developed a pretty close friendship during our training and deployment - and half of these guys have signed up for another year.

More pics from the Ag shura

More pics from the ag shura - from the top, LTC Stockfleth and Engineer Safi present the challenges, priorities and opportunities in agriculture for the N2KL provinces, LTC Legg (Missouri Agribusiness Development Team ag team leader), Dr. Dennis Eaton (from Purdue University - he works very closely with the agriculture college at Nangarhar University), Engineer Safi and his staff, and Gary Domian leading the discussion with USDA agriculture advisers on their experiences working in the field. Gary was the recipient of an award in honor of a USDA employee who was killed in Afghanistan a few years ago.

Ag Shura - message from Amb. Eickenberry

Ambassador Eickenberry kicked off the ag shura with his account of his agricultural background. He talked about working on a tobacco, corn and soybean farm as a teemager for two season as well as the importance agriculture plays in stabilizing Afghanistan. Amb. Eickenberry is an accomplished speaker and us Ag Advisors greatly appreciated him taking the time to talk to us.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Leaving FOB Finley Shields - for the last time!

JoAnne Jensen, George Roemer and Alam say goodbye and all my possessions piled at the helicopter landing zone at F-S. Wow, can hardly believe the day has arrived!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Drs. Floyd and Paul

From right to left, Tom, Dr. Paul, MSG Bradley, Dr. Floyd and his interpreter. Dr. Floyd and Dr. Paul are two DVM's who visited our FOB to discuss starting a 4-H like program here in Afghanistan as well as an internal parasite survey of sheep in the country. Dr. Floyd is actually a faculty member in the Food Animal Department at NC State and both of these distinguished professionals are an absolute pleasure to talk to and work with.


Now that you think I've completely lost my marbles taking pictures of a cup of coffee - but there's method to the madness! When I first got here I never thought I would get accustomed to the drink they allegedly call coffee - strong enough to peel paint, scaldingly hot, and usually hours (days?) old to lend that special burnt taste. However, its amazing what one can acclimate to over time, and while I never got to the point where I could drink more than a cup and a half of this without getting a stomach ache, I did finally find it tolerable.

Flowering tree

Found this tree blooming at FOB F-S intriguing -

Saturday, 13 November 2010

FOB kitties

The friendly little fellow on the stack of wood greeted me one morning meowing for attention - the other two are more wary and not approachable.

November Provincial Agriculture Working Group

USDA and ADT attended the Agricultural working group. Engineer Safi (pictured with USDA colleague Dr. Gary Hart and ADT colleague LTC Legg) speaks great English and is a capable leader. This working group contrasts sharply with the Behsud District Development assembly we attended a week ago - they have an agenda, they discuss coordination between development partners and the various line ministries and actively discuss and prioritize projects. Both Engineer Safi and the ADT have done considerable work to get this group to this point. Their veterinary director talks about meat inspection and sanitation (more from the community sanitation standpoint than from the meat sanitation standpoint - sounds like all the discarded organs just get heaped in a pile for the flies and vermin to dispose of) they're doing as well as blood testing capabilities that used to have to go to Kabul . The building we meet in was donated by Japan as shown in the plaque. Japan has done great things with the rice production in Nangarhar, with Nangarhar now being a net seller of rice to surrounding provinces and Kabul.

AWATT irrigation turn outs

These "turn outs" are a new water management tool being introduced by AWATT, a USAID project implemented through the University of New Mexico. Their comprehensive approach ties together many needs in Afghanistan, from watershed management to animal nutrition to crop management, soil fertility, crop diversity, increasing yields and agri - business opportunities. These turn outs replace the traditional "dig a hole in the canal bank" approach to irrigation and also creates small business opportunity for Afghans looking to get into small scale construction business. The turn outs are a small part of AWATT's programs; they have a field day later we're hoping to go to to see more of their agriculture management and education programs.

Orange trees - virus?

These trees at the Shishembah research farm are apparently infected with Trizteza virus, which causes loss of leaves and tree death. Apparently its a world wide problem, spread by brown aphids, and requires resistant root stock grafting when managing the disease.

Seed cleaning facility

Afghan workers cleaning seed corn.

Shishembah research farm - greenhouse

An ADT greenhouse constructed at the Shishembah Research Farm. This should soon be full of tomato plants, pepper plants, etc. started from seed for transplanting to vegetable plots on the research farm. Water comes from a nearby well piped up to the water tank on the stand seen in the background of the outside picture.

Rural Development follow up

After our meeting with the Behsud DSG and line directors we found a need to follow up with provincial staff. Mouhsen arranged for the Provincial Rural Rehabilitation and Development directors to come to the base where we discussed provincial financial support of Behsud District governance.

BeHsud District mentoring meeting

A mentoring meeting on the base with the Behsud subgovernor and directors of education, rural development, and finance. Mouhsen Habib (black hair and glasses) gives some tips to Qari Israhulla on governance and development strategy as our State Department governance expert.

Playing for the Girl Scouts

Our colleagues that lead the Girl Scouts ask CPT Heunik from the Missouri ADT and me to play guitar for their Saturday session. We worked on "itsy - bitsy spider" and "head and shoulders, knees and toes." They wanted to do something with actions to help overcome the language barrier. Later in the week, as I was walking out to our entry control point, a little girl saw me and hollered out - she then started doing the hand motions (with a big smile on her face) for itsy bitsy spider to show me she knew who I was and remembered the song!

More Afghan food porn

Lunch after the DDA assembly meeting. Our interpreter told me you take about 1 kilo of ground beef, 1 kilo of chopped onion, some chopped peppers and garlic and about 2 - 4 beaten eggs, mix it all together and fry it on a hot pan with a little grease - wrap up the patty with a little nan... mighty good chewin'!

Behsud District Development Assembly

We attended our first Behsud District Development Assembly (DDA) to assess the level of governance currently operating in Behsud. DSG Israhulla gave a well considered talk about the importance of security and standing firm against poppy planting. From that point on the DDA chairman took over the meeting and turned it into something resembling a union hall "fire up against the man" speech, blasting everyone for "lack of development" in Behsud (when in fact millions of dollars have been spent here by numerous countries and development organizations) to his own national army involvement in a land dispute where a stalled computer center project stands 80% constructed. The meeting ended after his 45 minute diatribe, with no discussion of district planning / priorities. The DDA is actually the only local representative body interacting with Afghan government, and unfortunately this particular meeting did not inspire confidence that this representational body functions as intended.

Behsud DST meets with DSG Qari Israhulla

Our District Support Team (DST) met the new Behsud district subgovernor (DSG) Qari Israhulla, a well educated (law, economics) man with a cultured, reserved demeanor (in the pictures he's the bearded man with the black clothes and grey jacket). Recently, DSG's have been moved from district to district, often spending no more than a few months at any given office. This constant shuffling of key government officials reduces continuity in the government and tends to empower local powerbrokers. We're hoping to build a long term, meaningful relationship with this highly qualified, thoughtful individual.

COL Fortune takes all comers at the ping pong table

COL Fortune stopped by the MWR on his way back from dinner and showed he's got skillz at ping pong - retired as the undefeated champion! Powerful slams administered on both the forehand and backhand side as well as amazingly quick reflexes on returns assure he can compete with the best. Plus the long arms to go with his 6'5" height don't hurt either.