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A Purdue University team helping Afghanistan build its agricultural economy by rebuilding its agricultural universities has received the Purdue Agriculture 2011 Team Award recognizing interdisciplinary team achievements of Purdue faculty and staff.

Purdue efforts in Afghanistan began in 2002. As the work expanded, the team, composed of six members from five Purdue departments, formed to support Purdue's work in improving the country's capacity to develop its agricultural education.

In 2006, Purdue obtained $7 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development to establish the Advancing Afghan Agriculture Alliance, known as A4, primarily to redevelop colleges of agriculture in Kabul, Balkh, Herat and Nangarhar.

In April, Purdue received an award of $32 million from USAID for the Strengthening Afghan Agriculture Faculties program to establish a new consortium of universities to continue and expand the work initiated under A4.

The team supports applied education on Afghan agriculture for Indiana National Guard Agribusiness Development Team members deploying to Afghanistan. The Afghanistan team members also have introduced an undergraduate honors course that examines the interaction of cultural, economic, historical, and domestic and regional politics development.

More than 70 faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture have been involved in the project.

Connections Managing Editor Tom Campbell posed 10 questions to Kevin T. McNamara, head of Purdue's Afghanistan efforts, on the importance of Purdue's work there.

Photo by Tom Campbell

Purdue professor Kevin McNamara (third from left) and Wali Salari, MS '10, (black jacket) introduced several Afghan farmers to new wheat varieties they planted this year.

1. What is the problem with Afghanistan's agriculture that it needs so much help?

Afghan agriculture is low–input, small–scale agriculture. Only 8 percent of farms are larger than 25 acres, and more than half are smaller than five acres. Farm households are poor, and food is insecure. Afghan agriculture does not meet farm household food needs, let alone national needs. Farm households have to improve their production and post–harvest management practices to meet household food needs and reduce national dependence on imports for food security.

2. Why is Purdue's work in Afghanistan important to the United States?

Success in Afghanistan is tied to improved economic opportunity for Afghans. The U.S. and other forces are dealing with the security side of the problems in Afghanistan; however, if economic opportunity for Afghans does not improve, Taliban and insurgent forces will find ready recruits among Afghans who see no opportunity for economic advancement. Purdue's efforts are preparing young Afghans to participate in Afghanistan's emerging commercial economy. The success of our university development efforts enables young Afghans to improve their standard of living and gives them the stake in peace and security that will lead to the defeat of the Taliban and other insurgent forces.

3. What level of success did you achieve with the first phase of this project?

Under the A4 project, our first USAID–funded effort, we initiated redevelopment. We renovated buildings, established student and research farms, began curriculum development and course modernization, and, perhaps most important, sent more than 100 Afghan faculty members out of the country for master's degrees and/or short–term technical training. These Afghan faculty are the people we are working with to reestablish their agricultural education system. They are the future of Afghanistan. They are the foundation we will build upon in Strengthening Afghan Agricultural Faculties, our newly funded USAID project.

4. What are the objectives of this second phase of the project and how does it differ from the first phase?

The SAAF project will provide resources to build upon what Purdue accomplished under the A4 funding while more effectively linking the university system to the broader agricultural economy. For instance, we are expanding program activities to include capacity building in the Ministry of Agriculture. We will link more formally to National Guard Agribusiness Development Teams to support local capacity building, and we will increase to 74 MS degrees and 20 PhDs. Additional SAAF staff will enable the program to expand efforts to support and mentor young Afghans who have returned to Afghanistan with newly earned MS degrees to begin their professional careers.

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