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    Agriculture helps in Wardak counter-insurgency fight

    Agriculture helps in Wardak counter-insurgency fight

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Michael Sword | (Right to left) 1st Lt. Kevin Smith, civil affairs officer for 1st Battalion, 503rd...... read more read more



    Story by Pfc. Michael Sword 

    173rd Airborne Brigade

    WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Not long ago, Afghanistan's Wardak province was known as "the breadbasket of Afghanistan." Apples, apricots, potatoes and other crops were thriving in the province.

    After decades of war and civil unrest, the province is no longer the oasis of agricultural production it once was. However, that is quickly changing thanks to the efforts of Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, U.S. government agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture and the Wardak department of agriculture, irrigation and land.

    According to Faizel Omer, the director of Agriculture of Wardak province, 85 percent of the province's people are dependent on agriculture in one way or another.

    "We know that economy of Wardak is based on agriculture," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kevin Smith, the civil affairs officer for 1st Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt. "It's a broken system right now, so the more we can do to improve it, will set us up for success more than anything."

    "The biggest complaint in Wardak is [unemployment]," he continued. "Farming is good because it can employ so many people and it's very cost-effective employment."

    In order to help teach the local farmers how to improve their farming abilities, Smith relies on an expert, USDA agricultural advisor Gary Soiseth, to help track and solve problems like black rot in apple orchards. In turn Soiseth relies on Omer and his agricultural department to help coordinate training for local farmers and solve problems at the village level.

    "These farmers are looking for new techniques to increase their yields and lots of them want training," said Soiseth. "Beekeeping is one of them because they pollinate and that pollination increases yields up to 40 percent in the first year."

    "It won't affect this year's yields, it will affect next year's," he added. "Everything is long term that we do in agriculture."

    Regardless, the new techniques will help farmers continue to improve their farming methods and productivity. As the farmers grow more quality crops, they will have more to sell, both locally and as an export.

    "Last year they exported several hundred metric tons of apples and apricots to Dubai, India and Pakistan," said Smith. "That was a first in the last 10 to 15 years.

    "Improving agriculture, they'll have more money to spend on other foods and when their economic standing improves and their health improves they'll invest in other things," said Soiseth. "I think it's really important when the economy is based so much on agriculture."

    For everyone involved, that investment is a means to an end. When the people of Wardak have food to eat and money to spend, they will be less inclined to join an insurgency that depends on people in economic need. That economic independence and ownership of farmland that yields a dependable income will lead to improved security in Wardak as farmers work to protect their farms.

    "Improvement of agriculture has a big role in the improvement of security," said Omer. "Most of the people who can't send their children to school because their economic situation is bad, have to use whatever way they can to make some money."

    "Farming gives them a means of income," he added.

    Omer has been the Wardak director of agriculture for four years and in that time has seen many improvements, including the eradication of poppy plants that had once been a problem in the province. Those improvements give him and his coalition partners hope.

    "We had high poppy cultivation in this province, but our extension workers advised the farmers it's not good for their health, meanwhile we gave them some improved seeds to help them," he said. "It was not stopped because of destroying their fields or law enforcement, but because of the agricultural extension workers, our advice and assistance from the international community. We stopped poppy cultivation."

    "Now, poppy cultivation for the last three years has been zero," he added. "Since we stopped that, maybe a time will come where we can stop people from working with insurgents."

    Though agriculture may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a way to fight a counter insurgency, Wardak is a good example of the potential of improved agriculture as a tool to not only improve security, but also increase development and the quality of life for the people of the province.

    "Really, the farmers are the way we're going to defeat the insurgency," said Smith. "Insurgencies are, more often than not, economically based, so if we improve their agriculture and tie them to the land, then they won't have the economic incentive to put bombs in the road."

    "It sounds cliché, but if you have pruning shears in your hand, you're most likely not going to have a gun in your hand or going out laying wires for IEDs," said Soiseth. "I don't want to try and give too much credit to agriculture, but I think it's really important when the economy is based so much on agriculture."



    Date Taken: 04.28.2010
    Date Posted: 04.28.2010 06:32
    Story ID: 48812
    Location: WARDAK PROVINCE, AF 

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