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NEWS | Nov. 30, 2011

National Guard agribusiness specialists use surveys to gauge progress, future potential in Afghanistan

By U.S. Air Force Capt. Dale Mitchell Combined Joint Task Force 1

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Amid the hustle and bustle of the Kama Village farmers market, Air National Guard Master Sgt. Greg Dunlap, an agribusiness specialist with the Missouri National Guard Agribusiness Development Team, perused a shop stall offering a variety of produce and dried legumes here earlier this month.

As a member of the ADT, Dunlap is not here to shop, but instead to collect valuable information that his team can use to assess local agri-business conditions.

The ADT troops then use this data, both quantitative and perceptual, to guide their Afghan government counterparts to develop value-added projects aimed at stimulating agribusiness sector growth. Their hope is to propel the fledgling country into a more bountiful future.

"Market surveys provide us with an immediate picture of agricultural needs and trends within a given district," Dunlap said. "More importantly the information we gather comes directly from the voices of the Afghan farmers we interact with. Hearing their struggles first hand allows our team the ability to guide more informed agricultural decision making at the governmental level."

On this particular day, after collecting price information, Dunlap asked the shopkeeper, local farmer Aadir Khan, if he plans on expanding his business.

Khan's face glows as he lists the future of his business. This in itself is a milestone event as in the recent past residents of this once insurgent rich region were remiss to even envision a hopeful future.

Khan said security in his district is good, but he just wants access to capital loans for expansion.

Like many third world countries, Afghanistan suffers from poor financial markets with negligible opportunities for business loans due to, among other factors, lack of credible financial institutions.

A positive factor that sets Afghanistan apart from the rest is the support and backing of international aid organizations such as the ADTs, which exist solely to encourage much needed improvements in agricultural productivity.

Later, Dunlap phones his Afghan counterpart, Abdul Aziz, the Kama District Agriculture Extension agent. Both men shared information they gathered over the week through similar survey tools.

"Yes, it is great for me to go out and mingle with the people," Dunlop said. "Through these meetings I learn critical information about their economic system. It is incumbent on me to discuss my findings with my Afghan counterpart. At the end of the day they understand the harsh realities and intricacies of daily life in Afghanistan. They are best suited to address and face their countries problems."

Aziz took the information on Khan's business and will follow up with the goal of further understanding needs and possibly providing links to financial grants available within the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.

"As a counterinsurgency force enabler, ADTs exist to propel the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan light years into their future, which might, on an American Scale, be the year 1900," said U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Albert Brown, an ADT agribusiness section leader.

"In present day Afghanistan, citizens are still entirely dependent on market access to food," Brown said. "Providing viable solutions encompasses so much more than a free handout of a tractor and tools. It's about meeting them at their level with resources commensurate with their development.

"If we can see what we think is a viable business, but they are balancing on the fence of expansion or existence, we can help," he said. "We are linking the government with their people.

"Seems like a foreign concept, but understand they have no concept of democracy. With something as simple as a small grant, a shopkeeper might be able to expand their business, infusing more economical inputs into the economy."

Brown said better access to affordable inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and chemicals, will pay huge dividends for farmers.

Comprised of Soldiers and Airmen from the Missouri National Guard, the ADT's intent is to support initiatives that will ensure the sustainability of Afghan agricultural productivity, filling gaps in the food supply from farm to table, reducing dependency on imported food, and building strong links between farmers and markets.

"At the end of our time here in Afghanistan, our success will not be measured by how many buildings we've built, or irrigation canals we've repaired, but in the overall systemic changes we've encouraged within the agricultural system," Brown said.

"Increasing productivity will create social and economic ripple effects," he added. "With increased income, farmers like Khan will have the financial means to withstand the call to insurgency. No more will these people send their children out to war instead they will send them to school.

"Our mission," Brown said, "is to help provide the means necessary to ensure an enduring vision of a profitable, bountiful future for Afghanistan."