Crawfordsville, Ind. • Profiled: Winter ’09
National Guard Afghan team leader
TO: Connections readers
FROM: Col. Chastain, Afghanistan
As-salaam alaykum, that’s “hello” in Pashto, the predominant language of Khost province, Afghanistan, where our Indiana National Guard unit, 1-19th ADT (Agribusiness Development Team), has been deployed at Forward Operating Base Salerno since early March.
We hope to make a serious impact in Afghanistan in our short year here. I am so grateful to Purdue for giving me the broad-based educational foundation that has served me so well in my life, both in the United States and now halfway around the world in war-torn Afghanistan. My agricultural education at Purdue, lifetime of experience on our family farm near Crawfordsville (Montgomery County, Ind.), and 30 years of a military career have all come together to provide me with the skills and knowledge to lead this team of subject matter experts who make up the agribusiness section of the ADT.
I have a team of 15 soldiers with experience and education in many different fields of agriculture. They are the creative ones and do all the hard work. They are a great group of soldiers who volunteered to come here to help the people of Afghanistan. Our unit also contains another great group of men from the Indiana National Guard, our force protection team of about 35 soldiers. Their job is to keep the rest of us safe as we travel around the province.
This country is so incredibly poor and there is so much we can do that it’s hard to know where to start.
In our discussions with the provincial leadership and district farmers, the most prevalent challenges to the farmers are lack of improved seed, the need for genetic improvements for livestock, and water issues, including availability, irrigation and collection methods.
We feel there are many ways we can improve Afghan farming in the relatively short time we will be here. One way is to improve yields of current crops by demonstrating new techniques and better farming methods, which we hope will take them from subsistence farming to the market and improve their economic posture. We would also like to introduce new crops, to either meet market needs or to better match soil and water types, and reintroduce crops that were destroyed by many years of war. We also think that promoting diversity on their small farms can reduce their risk of crop failures by disease or drought. Most of the farms here are hardly larger than gardens, by American standards.
By providing agricultural education to farmers, children and women, we hope to increase the chance that what we do here will be sustainable by the Afghans after we leave. By improving storage systems and market availability of crops, introducing new agribusinesses, and improving animal health — which, in turn, will improve human nutrition and family health — we can leave this country and its farmers in far better shape to face the future.
We have visited numerous sites around the province and met with many local political leaders and the chancellor and staff of Khost University (Shaikh Zayed University). We also were given access to a 14-acre olive orchard on our forward operating base. We are using areas of the orchard for some tests of rangeland grasses and forages, goat nutrition, orchard pruning, irrigation techniques, agroforestry, urea-sweet blocks for ruminants, and fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides.
Afghanistan is a poor country due to more than 30 years of war, but her people are very resilient and proud. And while our steps may be small and slow, our goal of improving the lives of the Afghan farmers is large and attainable.