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NRCS ag adviser teaches agriculture to young Afghans

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By Spencer Miller

Mr. Lively and Govenor of KhostKim Lively, a resources team leader with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Meridian, Texas, taught school children about agriculture while serving as an ag adviser in Afghanistan – an effort to instill the knowledge of good agriculture in future generations.

Stationed near Khost, a city on the Pakistan border, Lively said he was quickly impressed by the local farming potential.

“They have excellent soil,” said Lively, who served December 2009 to December 2011. “Some of the best crops I’ve ever seen were in Afghanistan. Peaches, plums, rice, alfalfa…you name it, they could grow it.”

But decades of war have prevented that agricultural potential from being realized. Khost has an especially violent history. During the Soviet war from 1979 to 89, Khost was besieged for more than 8 years.

Though less intense, the violence continues today. Lively was never far from danger. On average, the base suffered mortar attacks once or twice per week. He accepted the risk philosophically. “If it’s my time, what can I do about it anyway? No reason to worry.”

Lively is a trained paramedic. That skillset earned him an eager welcome from the Indiana National Guard unit stationed in Khost. Though never called upon for his emergency medical skills, he said, the Guardsmen felt reassured having him near and invited him to join any of their convoys.

The rapport with his host military unit led to effective collaboration to address the main agricultural issue in Khost: lost knowledge. As a result of prolonged war, some communities in Afghanistan no longer remember how to raise chickens, how pollination works, or other basic facts of agriculture that are typically handed down generation to generation. Several Indiana Guardsmen, who are teachers in their civilian life, helped Lively develop projects to educate Afghan schoolchildren about agriculture.

With Lively’s 35 years of experience at NRCS, he brought invaluable conservation knowledge that he transferred to the local farmers.

“I’ve spent a lot of time helping farmers improve their methods,” said Lively, “And that’s exactly what we did in Khost.”

Working with local government and university professors, Lively introduced projects in greenhouse management, drip irrigation, raising chickens, solar dehydration and composting. These projects taught Afghan high school students conservation and agriculture skills that had been lost. “The great thing about what we were doing is that it’s self-sustaining,” Lively said, noting that the curriculum he set up has continued since his departure.

The project on raising chickens was especially successful. Students sell the eggs and use that money to buy grain and other supplies. The project teaches a skill, provides income and gives the young generation of Afghans entries into agriculture.

Lively feels a great deal of satisfaction in his work abroad. “In my opinion, agriculture is the number one thing that can pull Afghanistan together,” he said.

Though he extended his deployment from one year to two, he said he would go back again if his grandkids would let him.

“I feel great about what we did,” he said. “Our mission was right and we made an impact.”