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NRCS soil scientist returns to Afghanistan as capstone of career

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By Mary Jacobson

Soil test lab training with Drew Adam (standing) and faculty and students of the Pul e Alam Agricult

Soil test lab training with Drew Adam (standing) and faculty and students of the Pul e Alam Agricultural and Vocational High School.

Drew Adam served as an ag adviser in Aghanistan

A meeting with the Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL) director and staff. (Left to right) Naziry, staff FSN (Foreign Service National), Drew Adam, Humayun Omar, DAIL Director, Tahiri, staff FSN, and Dr. Mohammad Khan, livestock veterinarian.

Zurha Khallili, acting director of Logar DOWA (Department of Woman’s Affairs) speaking to Afghan media during agribusiness training for the women’s agricultural association of Pul e Alam.

Zurha Khallili, acting director of Logar DOWA (Department of Woman’s Affairs) speaking to Afghan media during agribusiness training for the women’s agricultural association of Pul e Alam.

Drew Adam served as an ag adviser in Aghanistan

Drew Adam stands with Nisar Ahmad Niazy and his son. Niazy is the Head of Afghanistan’s Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL) beekeeping department.

The mission of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help people help the land can reach beyond the borders of the United States. Through the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, NRCS soil scientist Drew Adam works with Afghan farmers and ranchers to rebuild and maintain the country’s healthy soil.

Afghanistan lost critical agricultural infrastructure as the result of years of war. Adam is helping transition agricultural development from the NATO forces and foreign governments to the Afghanistan government, specifically to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.

Adam is currently in his second tour in the war-torn country, and just extended his one-year commitment to eighteen months. He spent six months in the same job in 2005.

“Working with Afghan farmers on agricultural development is the most rewarding work I have done for the USDA. When I left Afghanistan in 2005, I vowed to return before retirement,” he said.

Despite little-to-no funding, Adam was able to organize two important events for the Afghan people, putting into place positive agricultural and socioeconomic improvements that he said he expects will last long after his return to the United States. He said these events have made living inside a warzone worthwhile.

Adam arranged a long-running project where donations of soil test equipment from NRCS were sent to the Pul e Alam Agricultural and Vocational High School in Afghanistan’s Logar province. He held a workshop at the school with students and teachers, as well as employees from the ministry.

This project culminated with the ministry and high school entering into an agreement through which ministry extension agents collect soil samples from problem sites on farm fields and bring them to the high school to test for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and pH.

The agreement brings a valuable service to Afghan farmers, educates youth about soil science and created a joint venture between the government and an educational institution.

Adam helped coordinate a USDA-sponsored workshop in Pul e Alam in June 2013 with the Afghanistan’s Department of Women’s Affairs, or DOWA. Thirty-eight women attended the workshop to learn better marketing techniques for selling agricultural products in the Logar province. Adam said Afghan women play a vital role in agribusiness, as they are often the ones who sell excess produce and goods at market.

He said he attributes some of his success in Afghanistan to his experiences and training at NRCS. “NRCS trains us to think on our feet and be problem-solvers every day,” he said. “That makes us a valuable commodity in Afghanistan.”

While going through the advisor selection process with Foreign Agricultural Service, he said he proudly remembers receiving a compliment from a recruiter about how NRCS consistently produces some of the best advisors. The recruiter said it’s because of the field-level experience, the ability to work with counterparts, and the ability to manage contracts.

Adam has had a long and fruitful career with NRCS, starting in 1978 working on the national soil survey in Windham County, Vt. Most of his career as a soil scientist was spent in Vermont, but he said he always wanted to see the world. Through his career with NRCS, Adam had had the chance to realize that dream. In addition to Afghanistan, Adam also completed assignments in Uganda and Kenya and mapped soil throughout the United States.

“I have loved my career and experiences with NRCS,” Adam said. “I am so thankful I made the right choice to join the service after college.”

He said he plans to retire from the NRCS shortly after his return to the United States but sees himself working, at least part-time, in the field of conservation for many years.