Afghanistan's educational institutions were among the victims of years of civil war and Taliban rule. After being denied access to higher education in times of turmoil, Afghans are now working to rebuild what was destroyed.
With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Purdue University's International Programs in Agriculture is helping rebuild the capacity of Afghanistan's agricultural universities. One of the goals of the Advancing Afghan Agriculture Alliance (A-4) program is to educate agricultural faculty.
After spending seven months in Indianapolis learning English, 13 Afghan faculty members arrived at Purdue in June to begin work on master's degrees. Upon completion, they will return home to help rebuild academic programs through teaching and newfound knowledge.
Improving agricultural education will also benefit the country's economy. "Afghan farmers have a lot of problems," says Ghulam Hazrat Halimi, a member of the agriculture faculty at Kabul University who is studying agricultural economics. "They don't grow crops based on what the market demands."
Halimi says there is no industry to process what farmers grow and that this is problematic because many of their crops are seasonal. "We have high-quality products, but sell them cheap to Pakistan for processing and packaging," he says. "Then, they export to the world markets and make the profit."
Afghanistan's ministries are focusing on agriculture for economic development because more than 80 percent of the population is involved in the industry. "Our education system doesn't teach students skills that align with what's needed, so our graduates have a tough time finding jobs," Halimi says. "It's not that jobs aren't available; we just aren't producing a skilled workforce. It's our job to learn and take that knowledge back with us to help teach our farmers and students, and get them connected with the rest of the world."
It's easy to rebuild buildings and roads, but for a school to be successful it needs teachers, says Muhammad Wali Sallari, who is studying agronomy. He is also on Kabul's agriculture faculty. "We really appreciate the U.S. aid. Our relationship with Purdue University is very important, and we want to keep it going so other students have this opportunity."
In addition to Kabul, the A-4 program also aids Balkh, Heart and Nangahar universities.
Editor's note: See a related article on Purdue's effort to rebuild Kabul University at www.agriculture.purdue.edu/agricultures/past/winter2007/Features/feature1.htm.