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NEWS | April 30, 2010

How Sweet It Is

By Staff Sgt. Whitney Hughes 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team

KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, - Anybody that has seen Afghan women caring for their families, trekking up and down mountainous roads, and toiling in the fields knows that they are not strangers to playing the role of worker bee.

However, with the help of the Kentucky National Guard's Agricultural Development Team, attached to the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Vermont National Guard, Afghan women are now putting the bees to work for them.

The Kapisa Honeybee project began by supplying four beehives each to 25 women in Kapisa, and teaching them how to manage, care for and harvest the honey from the hives.

On April 1, the Kentucky ADT, which is currently assisting the Kapisa women with the project, paid a visit to key leaders to discuss how to proceed now that spring, the peak honey season, is upon them.

"The women are recognizing problems in the hives and know to contact the director of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock office for assistance," said Army Sgt. Jo Ashley, the non-commissioned officer from the Kentucky Guard in charge of aiding the women with the project. "This is our biggest accomplishment with the project, as we are trying to help the people trust that the government will assist them.

"The beneficiaries [or hive managers] are contacting the DAIL and the director Of Women's Affairs offices with issues in apiculture, this indicates they are seeing they need to rely on their government."

The Kentucky Soldiers took over the project from the Nebraska ADT who began the project in 2009. The idea behind the project is for it to eventually be self-sustaining. The benefactors, or hive managers, will manage their four hives for three years, splitting them to increase production and the number of hives.

At the end of three years, they expect double the amount of hives and return the original four hives to the DAIL. The original four hives will then be redistributed to 25 other women, starting the process all over.

In addition to the materials that the ADT provides, they also provide training, which the women then disseminate to other women. So, much like the hives themselves the project scope is constantly expanding.

"I have a plan to help 1,000 women on this project," said the director of women's affairs for Kapisa, Suhaila Kohistani (through a translator), who has been involved with the project since its inception in 2009. "I have 10 to 15 women applying for this project each day."

It is easy to understand why there is so much interest in the project.

One bee hive can produce up to six pounds of honey per year, and in local markets it is selling for 400 to 1,000 AFG (Afghan) per kilo, or about $6.60 per pound. So, one bee hive is worth about $39.60 per year.

To the average American this might not seem like a lot. But for the average Afghan household, whose income is about $400 (according to the UN); this is almost 10% of their income. However, in addition to the immediate financial benefits the Kapisa Honeybee Project also brings more long-term benefits.

Bees from a single hive can pollinate up to a three mile radius, so one woman with four hives can also have a significant impact on the agriculture on a larger scale.

"The women are all excited about the project and their involvement. From the DOWA to the children of the beneficiaries, all have gained knowledge that not only helps them manage their own hives, but also to allow them to teach others. They know they have a monumental role in Afghanistan's agriculture," said Ashley.

The project allows the women to play a pivotal role in their families, communities, and ecosystem, but its impact doesn't end there. The women also gain a new sense of independence through economic development, said Army Maj. Jim Rush, a member of the Kentucky ADT.

Ashley agreed, and stressed the social significance that the project carries with it.

"The women are rebuilding the self confidence that was lost in the thirty years of war tearing their families and social status to pieces. With projects such as this the women are working their way back up via the country's agriculture foundation to show they too are instrumental in the reconstruction of a war-torn country," she said.

With the help of ADT Soldiers, the women of Kapisa are using the project to harness the potential of these minute workers to make an enormous impact on their future, changing their role from worker bee to queen bee.