The sheep choked twice on the pill popper as Georgia National Guardsman learned a quick way to immunize an animal. It was the ewe’s small contribution to help train a special guard team for a mission in Afghanistan later this year.
Georgia National Guardsmen have been in Afghanistan for a decade. Georgia is one of several states now preparing Agribusiness Development Teams to help revitalize agriculture in Afghanistan. Experts from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Fort Valley State University trained members of the 265th Unit out of Metter, Ga., this week on the UGA Campus in Tifton, Ga.
“We’ve tried our best to give these soldiers information that we hope will help them once they are deployed to Afghanistan,” said Steve Brown, assistant dean with UGA Cooperative Extension and organizer of the training.
The guardsmen learned to care for chickens, handle beehives and harvest honey, prune fruit trees, grow wheat and milk cows. These are essential skills for a country whose agricultural industry is decades behind those of developed countries.
“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. “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.”
Eighty percent of Afghans work in agriculture, the primary economic driver in the country. Wheat is the No. 1 crop grown and imported because the country lacks the ability to process its wheat into the refined flour used to make naan, the thin, oval-shaped bread eaten throughout the country.
Wheat is the life source for Afghanistan. It feeds both people and animals and is used as animal bedding and to make homes. “If they have a bad wheat harvest, they starve,” McGalliard said.
Other crops in Afghanistan are rice, corn, cotton, onions, potatoes and tomatoes. They also farm sheep, goats, cattle, poultry, buffalos and camels.
Dewey Lee, an agronomist with CAES, taught the guardsmen how to treat seeds with fungicides before planting and how to recognize disease. “If they complain about their wheat smelling like dead fish, that is stinking smut (a seed borne disease that will affect yield),” Lee said.
The team’s mission is to increase productivity and build capacity for the future through agribusiness development. Guard members will 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, according to McGalliard.
The handpicked guard unit is based in Metter, Ga., but members hail from all across Georgia as well as Alabama and Oklahoma. The 58-member team is comprised of agricultural specialists and security personnel. The seven female members will work on women’s initiatives like beekeeping and poultry production.
The team will work with Afghan governmental agencies, like the Provincial Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, or DAIL, to show new farming methods to people of the Wardak and Logar provinces, where the team will be stationed.
UGA will support the team once it deploys. “We stand ready to be your resource. We will do what we need to get you the answers you need,” Brown told the team.
The first ADT from Georgia deployed earlier this year and is conducting programs for Afghan farmers now. Augusta’s 201st Regional Support Group received agricultural training from CAES in March 2011.
Members of the 201st met with the 265th via videoconference on Monday at the training in Tifton.
Col. Bill Williams, who leads the 201st, said ADT members should expect to be welcomed by Afghan hospitality.
“We build on what we have in common and we use our mutual respect for each other to communicate,” Williams said. “Just like we have Southern hospitality, they are big on treating guests. We are there to help them have a better life. It isn’t about us. It is about us doing what is right for the Afghans. We came in peace and want to help them.”
The 265th will deploy in spring and spend more than nine months in the country. Georgia Guard ADTs are scheduled to assist in agricultural revitalization until 2014.