Thursday, 25 February 2010

Results from request for help: 1000+ pairs of shoes!

Just wanted to let everyone know that since Max Velte put up his notice about kids in Afghanistan needing shoes that over 1000 pairs of shoes are now on the way to him!! He sends his thanks to all the generous people who responded so overwhelmingly in less than a week!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

How you can help

From time to time I've received questions from folks on ways they can help out the people of Afghanistan, and, thanks to LTC Max Velte of the California ADT for this suggestion. The ADT has been quite active with VETCAP inoculation clinics and Max noticed that the children bringing their animals to the clinic have walked sometimes for miles; he also noticed many of them have no shoes or worn out shoes. See the link below to the California ADT's Spirit of America page for those who would like to help.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Press coverage of ag conference

An Afghan press conference was held in the mid morning break of the ag conference, demonstrating the interest agriculture generates in this country. The four seated gentlemen are (L to R) Engineer Safi (Laghman Ag director), Laghman Governor Lutfullah Maschall, the Nangarhar subgovernor and a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Land (MAIL). Gov. Maschall got a laugh out of those in attendance; Afghan's can speak at passionately and great length and he was no exception. After he concluded his remarks in Pahstu he switched to English and gave a brief summary of his remarks, concluding with, (roughly quoted and delivered with a smile and wink) "I don't need to say any more words in English, I've said enough in Pashtu."

Ag conference day 2

The Afghan's took the lead for the second day of the Ag Conference. Opening remarks were delivered by Afghan governors from the Laghman and Nangarhar provinces. They shared their ideas about the need for agricultural and agribusiness development in Afghanistan. We heard that 85% of the country's population is involved with agriculture and that improvements in agriculture will lead to improved Afghan lives and greater stability. Increasing the amount of irrigated land, getting cold storage (remember, A'stan has very little electricity and cool / cold storage is essentially non - existent outside of the major population areas), food processing industries, agriculture disease knowledge and management (both plants and animals), increasing crop diversity, increasing market opportunities and increasing crop yields were accurately identified as agricultural development needs. The students came across very well; I see them as being the hope and future of Afghanistan agriculture and hope I can get involved in this internship program during my stay in country.


Dinner at the governor's palace

These pictures show the dining hall arrangements we had for lunch during the ag conference. The Afghan government officials and US reps were inside the governor's palace while the Afghans in attendance sat outside on carpets. Some of the late arrivals (such as myself) ate inside the parlor room shown here and in the earlier post of the governor's compound. We dined on grilled chicken, stewed goat, potatoes, rice with raisins and grated vegetables, and Afghan flat bread. The food here is devastatingly delicious to my palate - intricately spiced and having a moderate amount of hot pepper included and that suits me just fine. The meat is so tender it literally falls apart; I tip my cap to the cooks since I would never have imaged that the Afghan animals I've seen would yield such tender meat and Buffalo Wild Wings could learn a thing or two from the dry rub Afghan's use on their chicken. Food is served in large, community bowls / plates and pieces of flat bread are used to scoop up the food instead of silverware.

Governor's compound

The governor's compound was built as a winter retreat by an Afghan King early in the 20th century. It is surrounded by gardens with rose bushes and orange trees, the pool and a park. We went inside the palace for dinner and pictures of the opulent surroundings speak for themselves. The picture of the outside of the palace was taken immediately outside the amphitheatre that's part of the compound. It was a great place to have the second day of our meeting since several hundred Afghans attended and it would have been challenging to have such a large event on the base.

Helicopter ride to Nangarhar Governor Compound

The second day of the ag conference moved to the governor's compound here in Jalalabad. In order to get there, even tho it is just across town, we boarded two helicopters and helo'd (please don't check your dictionary for this verb) over instead of driving. Note the open hatch in the back; a precarious perch for the gunner tethered here! We landed on a soccer field and, after we dismounted, the helo's departed for other missions.

FIrst day of Ag conference

Fred Salinas, the USDA rep at the brigade in Jalalabad, organized an agribusiness conference for the USDA, US Agency of International Development (USAID), Department of State, and Department of Defense represenatives from the A'stan provinces of Nuristan, Kunar, Lahgman and Nangarhar. We spent the first day in a classroom listening to presentations from various "implementing partners" (translation: people with money and the ability to do stuff) and hearing stories about the successes of the National Guard Agribusiness Development Teams (ADT's). The implementing partners talked about the various projects and grants they do in Afghanistan (examples include irrigation canals, improved seeds for crops, orchard planting, agri - business grants, etc.), and learned about the Agriculture College at Nangarhar University. Dennis Eaton, from Purdue University, has been in Afghanistan four years and has become associated with the N'har college of ag, working with the professors and helping them procure equipment (almost all of their equipment dates back to the '70's when the Russians were here) and develop the ag college into a more modern institution. Almost all of their graduates leave without any practical experience (they do not have demonstration / experimental farms) and have a difficult time finding work in agriculture; many go on to work as interpreters or leave the country in order to find work that pays decently. The picture of the man in fatigues is Col. Eric Grimm, the commander of the California ADT that I work with in Kunar; the other picture shows Col. Eric Peck of the Kansas ADT receiving a certificate of appreciation from Fred Salinas. The Kansas ADT started an internship program for Nangarhar University ag students that I see as one way for agriculture success in Afghanistan. Three students from N'har Ag college come to work with the provincial reconstruction team one day a week and get practical experience by developing demonstration farms, contructing buildings, working on water projects, and providing training to local citizens on livestock care, horticulture, etc. Education and building a functional extension service are priorities of the President's ag strategy, and it was rewarding to see momentum developing in the right direction for the agricultural institutions of Afghanistan.

B huts

The typical construction of the ubiquitous "B huts" that serve the housing needs on the FOB's and outposts in Afghanistan. These can be left as one wide open space or divided into rooms.

Road to test your driving skills

I saw this road on the helicopter ride to J'bad - thought this would be a good test of anyone's driving abilities!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Helo ride to J'bad

My apologies for not putting more posts up lately. Last week I accidentally deleted all the pictures in my camera, thus eliminating about two weeks of material.

Anyways, I traveled on a 45 minutes helicopter ride to Jalalabad for a two day agriculture meeting. Here's some pics of what A'stan looks like behind the mountains. I was surprised to still see small green valleys and small villages even on some of the roughest terrain.

The helicopters are amazingly agile creatures. They take off and land so gently but in the air tilt and turn on a dime. I've heard those inclined to motion sickness have trouble with helicopters; not surprising after riding in one.