News: Soldiers coach farmers for superior harvest
Story by Spc. Brian Smith-Dutton
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan – While some coalition force units build up the Afghan National Security Forces others have a different mission within the area of operations.
Soldiers assigned to 5-19th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana National Guard, assist the Afghan people through an emphasis on agricultural techniques.
“For about the last year we have focused on their knowledge of basic farming tasks and training those tasks to local farmers,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gregory Motz, the executive officer for the Khowst Province Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The team’s responsibility is to teach local farmers ways of improving their crops and livestock.
“Our emphases has been row planting, basic crop rotation, soil management for pest control, animal care, crop selection, green house management and low tunnel green house development,” said Motz.
“Agriculture is critically important in Afghanistan,” continued Motz. “Because of the Soviet invasion and the subsequent civil wars, much of the institutional knowledge of farming was lost.”
Motz and his team meet with local farmers and area representatives to educate and mentor them in ways to increase their livestock and crop harvest as well as protect it against pests.
“We have conducted several training cycles,” said Motz. “Typically we train them and provide them with materials to allow them to repeat the training with other farmers of their district.”
Through the PRT team, local farmers in Khowst province have learned of the benefits of row planting with corn and are preparing to utilize that technique for next year’s harvest.
“We were just told of a man who attended the training and convinced his father through a wager to allow him to plant corn in rows to compare the difference,” said Motz. “At harvest, the field planted in rows produced significantly more corn, while only requiring half of the seeds to be planted initially.”
“The word spread to the neighboring districts and there are villages that are working towards buying a mechanical planter to share so they can all plant in rows next year,” continued Motz, gleaming with pride while describing the team’s accomplishment.
Motz explains that properly utilizing row planting and the crops growth cycle, a farmer is capable of increasing their harvest by two to three times more yield.
Motz and his team have worked to maximize the production of crops for local farmers by teaching their knowledge to those willing to learn. In turn, those Afghans then teach the technique to other farmers when they are able to see positive results.
“We have done training in each of our areas of emphasis,” said Motz. “These training events were all low tech, hands on events, so the representatives would be comfortable delivering them at the farmer level.”
Motz can’t help but crack a smile when describing the difference he and his team have made with the Afghan people.
“This is the best job I have had in the Army,” said Motz. “To be able to see the progress the Afghans have made in a year and know that it isn't because we did it for them, but with them.”
With the team’s deployment time almost complete, Motz knows he is leaving Afghanistan in the hands of better educated farmers. Farmers who will continue to use the knowledge they have gained to provide better crops for their people.
“The agricultural community in Khost has made leaps and bounds in the last five years,” said Motz. “It is really exciting to be a part of that.”