Afghanistan - USDA Agricultural Advisor Returns from Two Year Deployment
Afghanistan - USDA Agricultural Advisor
Returns from Two Year Deployment
Greg Schlenz looking at Spring Wheat with local Afghan Farmer, Obdara
Village, Panjshir Province, Afghanistan.
Dashtak city, Panjshir Province county
USDA Assisting Agriculture in Afghanistan
USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), DoD (Department of Defense),
USAID (United States Agency for International Development), DoS (Department of
State), Afghan Provincial Agriculture Department & Local Farmers and Ranchers.
Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) "lion" located at Forward Operating Base
FOB-Loin in the heart of the Hindu Kush Mountains in the Panjshir Valley (6 to
10,000' elevation). Working in a war zone following nearly 40 years of conflict
- that had destroyed irrigation canals, orchards and left many aspects of
agriculture in shambles. 90% of farmers in Panjshir Province practice
subsistence agriculture. When the Russians occupation started in 1979 many key
leaders from all levels of government fled the country. Assisting with
establishing local, area & national government structure once again in a
predominately tribal/ethnic cultural society is a challenge. Building trust at
all levels of government & between all afghan's.
DoD CERP (Commanders Emergency Response Program), USAID Programs, Non Government
Organizations & Private donations funds.
Afghan farmers are very appreciative of assistance in bringing their agriculture
back from the destruction of the past 40 years with improved varieties of wheat,
corn and other crops. Over 90% of the farmers in the Panjshir Valley practice
subsistance agriculture. Showing them how to row crop instead of hand
sowing/broadcasting and fertilizing, improved yields with less pest, disease and
problems. Establishing orchards (apple, apricot, almond, pear, cherry & others)
that had been destroyed during the Russian Occupation. Establishing hybrid
poplars for fuelwood for heat and cooking - they use animal manure to supplement
as a fuel source because many areas have been deforested during the past 40
years. Establishing an Ag Experimental Farm to test crops that had not been
tried in the local area before or how to get better yields from current crops.
Also established an Ag Demonstration Farm to show farmers how to improve yield,
reduce pest & disease problems, better use irrigation water techniques going
from flood irrigation to drip or furrow, introducing row crop agriculture with
animal drawn and mechanized equipment. Women's Poultry project for meat and egg
production was a big success as was bringing in over 1,000 bee hives for
pollination of crops and as a side line honey production. All these projects
done with the Afghan Provincial Agricultural Director and his staff to bring
local governance back where none has existed for nearly 40 years.
USDA is part of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT's) in Afghanistan.
Teams leadership is made up of the DoS Director, DoD commander, USAID
Representative & USDA Agricultural Advisor . Together they set the direction
with the Afghan government to do reconstruction and development in each
province. There are 12 US led PRT's in Afghanistan. I was blessed to work in the
safest province, Panjshir, which allowed smooth advancements with agricultural
projects. One of my main goals was to double the wheat yields before I left.
During my first year deployment it became apparent that wheat stocks being used
where so old that they had lost their yield potential and pest and disease
resistance. I was able to work with the French Embassy to bring in improved
varieties of wheat for better yield, pest & disease resistance along with
introducing row crop agriculture with proper fertilization and water management
techniques to accomplish doubling wheat yields in the province. This really hit
home when our PRT met with a local village and held a shura (afghan meeting)
that one particular farmer told me that he produced enough wheat flour to last
his family about five months of the year. He then would have to barter to get
what his family needed for the rest of the year. Afghan's make naan bread - an
unleavened flat bread that is a staple of their diet with almost every meal.
This farmer is now able to produce enough wheat to last his family the entire
year on the same amount of land. For subsistence agricultural farmers this is a
huge improvement to their lives. This was one of the most rewarding projects
accomplished for me - making a real positive difference to local farmers lives.
Other projects will take longer to come to full fruition - orchards, hybrid
poplar plantations for fuelwood production and market linkages from potato cool
storage facilities. I feel very good leaving Afghanistan knowing I had a part in
making agriculture better in assisting local provincial government leaders to
meet the agriculture needs of the Panjshir Valley. A very rewarding two year