Mississippi Guard Soldiers teach Afghan farmers water, soil management
February 8, 2013
QALAT, Afghanistan (Feb. 8, 2013) -- Twenty-nine Afghans representing the Farmers Cooperative program traveled to Qalat, Feb. 4-5, 2013, for a two-day workshop on water and soil conservation management held by the Zabul Agribusiness Development Team.
This was a hybrid workshop, which included classroom discussion and hands-on training. The workshop detailed how much to water a certain size field, how to measure the flow of water and how to reduce effects of erosion.
The mission of the Zabul Agribusiness Development Team, comprised of Soldiers from the Mississippi Army National Guard, is to work with the Afghan populace on an array of agricultural topics; particularly, water management, soil conservation and animal health.
One of the key elements of the workshop was to address problems with the local karez, which is a type of subterranean irrigation system.
"The problem is that many villages have not worked to maintain the karez and keep them cleaned out," said Charles Ruffner, Ph.D., a forest ecologist from Southern Illinois University, working with the ADT as a Department of Defense agribusiness specialist.
This negligence, he said, has allowed sediment to clog the channels and many animals to make their home within the karez, which contaminates the water. Those problems have dammed many of the karez in Zabul province.
Water in arid Afghanistan is very important. In fact, the fear of crops dying from drought has led to the rise of another problem - over-watering. Many farmers believe their watering systems leave gardens inadequately irrigated when the reality is that they are over-watering their gardens, sometimes using double the water needed. Ruffner explained that over-watering leads their gardens to have a much lower production and can wash away vital minerals in the soil.
Erosion control is as important as properly managing the available water, Ruffner said.
"Anywhere that you have water flowing downhill you should be building check dams," he said.
Ruffner explained that check dams are an easy, inexpensive solution to many erosion problems.
"The idea for a check dam is to have many of them so the water can move through them but it slows it down, takes the energy out and reduces the amount of force the water has," he said.
Ruffner brought the Afghans outside after the class to perform a simple test, known as the soil ribbon test, to evaluate different types of soil. This test consisted of kneading the soil in the hand and forming it into a ribbon-like form to determine whether its primary content is sand or clay. The farmers were quick to perform the test for themselves.
The ADT also evaluated the needs of the farmers to tailor the upcoming workshops to their needs. The next session will be how to properly set up a garden and irrigation system.