FORWARD OPERATING BASE APACHE, Afghanistan - National Guard Soldiers from the Arkansas Agricultural Development Team 2, Forward Operating Base Apache are using their expertise to help boost the productivity and quality of Afghan farming industries.
A bee sting can hurt, but farmers in Zabul province, Afghanistan, where there are far more dangerous threats, are embracing the new livelihood of beekeeping.
“There are places in Afghanistan where there has been beekeeping for some time, but in Zabul, it is a new concept,” said Army Maj. Marden Hueter, operations officer for Arkansas ADT.
“We selected three farmers in the primary key districts: Shajoy, Qalat and Tarnak Wa Jaldak, with hopes they will be our beekeeping ambassadors, and their farms will act as demonstration orchards,” he said.
The ADT provided farmers with starter kits including eight hives each, additional empty hives for repopulation and beekeeping tools.
Hueter and fellow ADT member, Army Sgt. Savana Smith, helped the famers learn beekeeping at FOB Smart, Qalat City, Afghanistan.
Following the training, ADT members met with two newly trained farmers, March 24, to help present the beehives at a local nursery on behalf of the Qalat Directorate of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock office and contracting beekeeper.
At 16-years-old and the youngest of the three farmers trained by ADT, Ahmed Mohammad graciously accepted his new honeybees with a smile on his face.
“We are very happy,” Mohammad said. “It’s the first time we will have received bees. Before we went to the training, we were afraid of the honey bees, but now, I’m not afraid of getting stung.”
As a new beekeeper, Mohammad will be tending to his hives by himself. He said he has been stung before, but with his newfound skills, the price of a bee sting offers much more than a brief period of inconvenience, it offers a new opportunity of living.
Hueter used his experience as an independent beekeeper to help teach the farmers about the benefits of apiary and bee maintenance.
While most people may think bees are primarily used for honey production, Hueter explained these famers learned a more valuable benefit.
“Here, beekeeping will be done for the cross pollination of orchards,” he said. “Pre-Soviet invasion, Afghanistan was considered the ‘Orchard of Central Asia.’ Cross pollination can maximize orchard production which will increase profits for the farmer.”
Cash crops in the Zabul region include almonds groves, pomegranates, figs, apricots and apple trees.
With the benefits of bee pollination, Hueter said there may be a 40 percent increase in fruit production.
As in the beginning of any agricultural project, seeing results will take time. The process of development will require the new farmers to demonstrate patience as their hives begin to grow.
“With a new hive, it usually takes a year to become fully established,” Heuter said. “It is the bees’ natural tendency to split the hive in half when they become crowded in their space. They will grow a new queen, find a new home, and that is one of the ways bees repopulate and reproduce.”
By this time next year, the farmers should see the development of swarming behavior. The bees will make new beehives and the keepers can sell them. The profit will not only give the farmer more motivation to see value in his bees, but the money-making proposition will spread bees to other potential beekeepers or other orchards he may own.
“I think this will be a successful project,” said Army Sgt. Savana Smith.
“They took in all the training, asked a lot of questions and are excited to get their honey bees,” she said. “We get to see how they interact with the bees, use the new tools and see how their confidence level has been built up from the training.”
ADT will soon offer training to members of the Qalat DAIL to ensure continuous observation of the hives and make sure the beekeeping project is a success.
“The hands-on demonstrations give us a chance to assess the overall effectiveness,” Heuter said. “As long as these farmers are working with their bees and there are positive results, it will be a project to continue in the future.”