News: Zabul ADT study could increase Afghan wheat production
Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes
SHAR-E-SARIF, Afghanistan – Afghan wheat production could see a major increase in time following the results of a study by the Zabul Agribusiness Development Team, Third Infantry Division, which compared the growth of certified wheat seeds against those purchased in local bazaars in Regional Command (South).
Wheat is the staple dietary crop of Afghanistan. An increase in production would have a significant impact on both the living conditions of the population and the local economy, said Capt. Jim Magee, the liaison officer for the Zabul ADT.
“The large impact is a significant increase in food security and higher profit from the same plot of land,” the Brookhaven, Miss., native said.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Henderson, the agriculture non-commissioned officer in charge of the Zabul ADT, said the importance of increasing production on the same plot of land is tremendous because the Afghan farmers are not likely to be able to open up more land for farming. Therefore, getting more product out of the same plot is the only way to boost production as well as profit.
The results of the study, conducted between December 2012 and April 2013, will help them achieve that, the Leland, Miss., native said. The latest measurements in the comparison study, conducted earlier this month before the Zabul ADT began their demobilization to return home to Mississippi, showed an average height difference of four to six inches and a stand count of 26 plants per square foot of certified wheat versus 23 plants per square foot of bazaar-purchased wheat.
“That may not seem like much,” Henderson said. “This is only a three plant per square foot difference. However, this is a difference of over 64,000 plants per jerib.”
A jerib, the Afghan measurement for land plot sizes, is approximately a half-acre.
In addition, the seed heads on the plants were approximately twice as large on the certified plants, Henderson said.
The study also showed that the certified seeds were treated with a fungicide. This certainly helped with the increase in stand count by making the plants healthier and more resistant to diseases, he said.
Despite the obvious benefits of the certified grain, Magee said it may take some time for the Afghan farmers to make the switch because of cultural and political factors.
“The Afghans have been growing the same strain of wheat for centuries,” he said. “They’re used to do things in a traditional way – the way their father showed them and his showed him. It will take some time to break that cycle.”
This affects the genetic quality of the plants, Henderson said. Wheat needs cross-pollination with other strains to remain vibrant.
“You’re going to get wheat, but over the years you’re going to get weaker and weaker wheat,” he said.
This leads to poorer production and plant health resulting in less plants surviving to maturity and smaller yields on the plants themselves, Henderson said.
Introducing the certified wheat into the cycle will help restore the genetic potential of existing strains as well over time, he said. That process, however, will take years.
It is, perhaps, the political challenge that may be the most difficult to overcome for immediate results, Magee said. The certified wheat seeds are subsidized and sold through the District Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock officials, a political office of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Some farmers are opposed to the government and do not want to support it. Others are afraid of reprisals if they are seen visiting the DAIL compounds to purchase the seed, he said. Therefore, some farmers who want to use the certified seeds will not do so.
Some DAILs have managed this obstacle by offering the seed for sale in the local bazaar, but others prefer to keep it for sale only in their compounds.
“If we can have a couple of seasons for them to see the difference in the two strains and get enough of it in the fields to cross-pollinate with the traditional strain, we’ll start to see a big difference here,” Magee said. “That will lend some credibility not only to the DAIL, but also to certified wheat.”
Current ADT supporting states deployed to Afghanistan are Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi.