Planting hope
Mashuqallah, agriculture extension director for the Chowkay District of Afghanistan's Kuna Province, tills ground outside the greenhouse at the Chowkay Demonstration Farm, Dec. 5. 1st Lt. Scott Shirk, Chowkay project manager for the Iowa National Guard's 734th Agribusiness Development Team, stand by to provide assistance.

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- By American agricultural standards, the two-wheeled tractor the Iowa National Guard's 734th Agribusiness Development Team brought to the Chowkay Demonstration Farm Dec. 5 was not much to look at.

For the farmers of the Chowkay District of Afghanistan's Kunar Province, however, the tractor represented a level of technology not often seen since revolution and war consumed Afghanistan's agriculture sector in the late 1970s.

Mashuqallah, the agriculture extension manager for Chowkay District, expressed delight at the ADT's reintroduction of mechanized agriculture to the demonstration farm. He emphasized he had experience using such equipment, but most local farmers did not.

"It's a new technology for our farmers, so they can get familiar with it," Mashuqallah said. "Although I'm familiar with it, having it here will allow other farmers to learn how to use it."

Production agriculture specialists with the ADT first tilled the ground in the demonstration farm's greenhouse to prepare the seedbed for vegetable planting. Then they looked on as Mashuqallah used the tractor to till large strips of earth outside the greenhouse.

After Mashuqallah had taken a turn, the ADT production agriculture specialists trained Mashuqalla's son and several local farmers on the tractor's operation.

The ADT's project manager for the Chowkay District, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Scott Shirk of Emmetsburg, Iowa, arranged to purchase the tractor. He explained the tractor would also enable training on the benefits of mechanical planting.

"We bought a seed drill attachment for the tractor, and what we're going to do is establish test plots of mechanically planted wheat and test plots of hand-sown wheat," Shirk said. "Most farmers around here hand sow their wheat, but we'll be able to show them how mechanically planted wheat has a more uniform planting depth and seed distribution, and that alone should boost yields a good bit."

For Mashuqallah, the tractor was only the latest agriculture improvement for Chowkay District brought about by the Iowa ADT. He also pointed to the construction of the demonstration farm greenhouse, installation of a new irrigation water pump and recent Veterinary Outreach Sustainment Programs in his district as examples of the ADT's positive impact on local agriculture.

"The Afghan people are a good nation, and they will never forget your help," Mashuqallah said.

At the same, time Mashuqallah insisted the ADT could be even more helpful if it addressed the district's degraded canal system.

"The first thing we need is water, because agriculture depends on water," Mashuqallah said. "If there's no water, there's no agriculture. If there's no agriculture, there's no us. It's a fact." he said. "This entire area is facing the same problem."

Shirk concurred with Mashuqallah on the importance of reliable water supplies to agricultural production. However, Shirk also urged patience.

"Mashuqallah has been very good to work with, and we understand the problems he's facing in Chowkay," Shirk said. "The primary issue he's dealing with is the canal system the district uses for irrigation, but Chowkay is not the only district we're working in, and they are all facing similar problems."

"That means we can't focus all our attention in Chowkay," he added. "As the project manager for Chowkay, I wish we could, but I understand why we've got to allocate our resources to other districts, too."

Page last updated Fri December 10th, 2010 at 06:16