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NEWS | Feb. 17, 2010

Kentucky ADT helps Afghan farmers reach new markets

By Army Sgt. 1st Jon Soucy National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va., - The Kentucky National Guard's Agribusiness Development Team has helped Afghan farmers reach new markets with their products, the unit commander recently told Kentucky Public Radio.

"We have been able to, since we've been here, help the Afghans sell some produce to Dubai and India, which has been a big success," said Army Col. Mike Farley, commander of the Kentucky ADT. "That's actually opening up some of the markets in Pakistan, because some of the crops they would normally get are going elsewhere, so that's a win-win story for us."

Being able to work with Afghan farmers to develop both improved farming methods as well as outlets to sell those products has a direct benefit for those farmers.

"That's important because nearly 80 percent of the people here either work or are fed through agriculture here in this country," said Farley.

However, farming methods are only one of the issues facing Afghan farmers.

"They grow really good fruits and vegetables here," said Farley. "It's amazing how good of quality the soil is, but they have a hard time with transportation. We have farmers that have potatoes and onions that are remarkable, but they sit and rot because they can't get them to market."

So, working to improve transportation methods is one of the ADT's big projects. Other initiatives include a Women's Empowerment Program, which will provide Afghan women with viable farming and trade skills.

"As you know the women are treated quite a bit different here, and we're trying to show some equality and do women's empowerment programs," Farley said. "We have taught them how to grow saffron, which is an herb, and they are able to make about $300 per person.

He added that they have also introduced beekeeping to the women's program.

The Kentucky ADT, which is based out of Bagram Airfield, has the largest areas to cover in Afghanistan.

"We're the only ADT with (responsibility for) four provinces," said Farley. "These are very diverse areas, and it's about 1,000 square miles of territory, which is quite a bit.
"There's no way we can influence all of it, but we work through the (directors of irrigation and livestock) and their extension agents and that allows us to reach out to most of the farmers."

working through these agencies when interacting with the local farmers, it allows the farmers a chance to put a name and face to the government, something that hasn't always happened in the past.

 "We always try and take one of the directors with us so (the farmers) know that their government does exist," said Farley. "So we try and reiterate and build those relationships with the government officials and the farmers.

"It's amazing, sometimes when we go out we'll have farmers say that this is the first time a government official has come to their village and talked to them."

Farley said it is important for these relationships to develop between the farmers and the directors.

"They are starting to bring their issues to the extension agents, who will then in turn bring it to the directors," he said. "If they can't solve it, they'll call us and we'll meet with them to try and solve the issue at hand."

Farley emphasized that the ADT's goal is to find "Afghan solutions to Afghan problems," which takes some time.

"You can't just go and sit down and start talking their issues," he said. "What they want to know is that you're interested in and care about them.

"In some instances, we have spent hours just talking with them about what they do, how many children they have, what they've been through in their life."

Farley said that by sharing details about his own personal life—that he's married with two children and grew up on an apple orchard—works to help build trust.

While the Kentucky ADT continues to make strides working with Afghan farmers, a second team is currently preparing to replace them and wants to ensure there is continuity when they take over.

"We will be taking the projects that Col. Farley is already working on and taking them to the next stage," said Army Col. Hunter Matthews, commander of the second ADT. "Myself and three of my team members will actually be traveling to Afghanistan later in February, so we can get a head start on doing that."

In addition to normal military and theatre-specific training that all units receive when they deploy, the team is also working with staff and faculty from the University of Kentucky's Department of Agriculture to brush up their agriculture skills, said Matthews.

And both commanders said they feel the transition will be a seamless one, especially since both teams are from Kentucky.

"The team we replaced was from Nebraska, and you have to develop those relationships with the unit you replace and there is always a little bit of a lag," said Farley. "But with us being replaced by a Kentucky unit that relationship is already, built and my team has already been sharing things with his team."