Saturday, 20 February 2010

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.

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