A team of Georgia National Guardsmen will soon deploy to Afghanistan on a special mission to revitalize the war-torn country’s agriculture industry. And University of Georgia experts will arm them with the knowledge to do it.
Later this month, 18 members of the Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team will visit the UGA campus in Tifton, Ga., to get hands-on training from specialists with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The guardsmen will be trained in irrigation, crop production, pest management, soils assessment, livestock management, food storage and more.
Georgia is one of five states preparing units with agriculture experience to aid Afghanistan. The first citizen soldiers from Georgia, Augusta’s 201st Regional Support Group, deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year after training with CAES agriculture specialists in March 2011.
"These are not typical training sessions for us, but when the Georgia National Guard asked for help, we wanted to do all we could,” said Steve Brown, assistant dean for UGA Cooperative Extension. “While our scientists may not be experts in Afghan agriculture, the basics are the same worldwide."
More than 70 percent of Afghans are farmers, but lack the knowledge to produce viable crops and productive yields. Thirty years of war and prolonged drought have set them back.
“Farming techniques used by the Afghan people are like those from the mid-1800s. They don’t have the chemicals or the equipment we have in the states. There is no electrical grid,” said Colonel Craig McGalliard, who leads the 265th out of Metter, Ga. “The Afghan people have been farming for thousands of years and they have good ideas based on their resources, but we hope to show them how to improve.”
The 58-member team is comprised of agricultural specialists and security personnel. The seven female members on the team will work on women’s initiative programs like beekeeping and poultry production.
“Our 10 agriculture specialists already know the areas we are focused on, but we need this training to give everyone a broader idea of what the other team members are working on so we can assist them,” said SGM Jay Sharpe.
Once deployed, the guardsmen will pull from their training and reach out to UGA specialists they meet while in Tifton.
“UGA is part of our reach back capability once we get in country. They have the expertise to assist our team and people like me who don’t have an agricultural background,” McGalliard said.
While Georgia Guardsmen have been deployed to Afghanistan for more than 10 years, they are now arriving with technology and agricultural know-how to share with Afghan farmers. The guardsmen aim to help the farmers grow crops to feed their families and possibly for the export market.
Focus will be placed on improved methods for wheat production and storage and apple processing, two of the areas most important crops. “Bread is their No. 1 food staple, most of their population survives on it,” McGalliard said. “If they have a bad wheat harvest, they starve.”
Due to lack of cold storage, the region’s apples are often bought cheaply at harvest and then sold back to the farmers in a processed state or later in the year at an escalated price.
The guard’s mission is to help Afghans change their practices through education, mentorship and ‘easy-to-train, easy-to-sustain’ crop, livestock, water and land-management projects that fit their culture and environment, McGalliard said.
The guard will work with the Afghanistan director of agriculture, irrigation and livestock to show new farming methods to people of the Wardak and Logar provinces, where they will be stationed.
Wardak and Logar receive little rainfall and depend on snowmelt from the mountains to fill aquifers. The guardsmen plan to teach farmers how to slow down the water flow and manage it better.
“This mission is perfect for the guard as the organization’s symbol [the Minuteman] is an armed farmer standing with a musket in one hand and a plow in the other,” McGalliard said. “The guard has a unique capability for this mission because we have people who raise livestock or crops and happen to be in the guard.”
The Georgia National Guard made a three-year commitment to return to Afghanistan for agriculture training. The 265th will deploy this spring for a nine-month stint in Afghanistan.