LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Representatives from the International Security Assistance Force and the United States Department of Agriculture met with Laghman district leaders to discuss economic growth at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, Laghman province, May 9.

"I am really happy that we can have these meetings to bring together our knowledge," said Dawalatz Zai, director of agriculture, irrigaton and livestock for Laghman Province.

Members of ISAF and U.S. Agencies listened to the concerns and recommendations brought forward by the local Afghan line directors and provided guidance to help boost agricultural revenue.

"Farming is an important part of the Laghman Province economy, with almost 90 percent of the population employed by agriculture," said Eric Dolbeare, USDA Senior Agricultural Advisor, Regional Command-East.

Dolbeare said he is assisting the farmers through the government of Afghanistan and is focusing on what local Afghans need to learn in order to increase the productivity of their farms.

Approximately 30 to 40 percent of farmers' produce is for their own use, said Zai.

"Improving agriculture is crucial to the development of Afghanistan," said Dolbeare.

In addition, the meetings are a time to show the line directors how to implement new strategies with the farmers.

As an example, the Agricultural Extension Development program from the United States Agency for International Aid has helped Laghman Province develop seven demonstration farms.

"These farms give farmers the opportunity to come see techniques used to improve their own farms," said Dr. Jahangir Miakhail, senior provincial management specialist, Laghman Province. "We have established orange orchards, wheat, soybeans, rice; we have a lot of production here."

Another key topic discussed during the meeting was the importance of financial security.

Pnina Levermore, regional sub-national governance adviser, USAID, who works specifically with provincial officials on budgetary matters, says budget meetings help line directors understand how a budget is formed and how it comes together by looking at the numbers on paper.

"We identified that they did not have the knowledgebase to use their existing budget or how to establish a proper budget plan for the following year," said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Daniel Gilliss, Company A., 486th Civil Affairs Battalion, Oklahoma Army National Guard.

Gilliss, a native of Oklahoma City, Okla., said he believes helping farmers with the budget will help them get seeds to plant and fertilizer for crops.

"Private sector businesses, such as seed companies, plant protection and machinery companies, will benefit from the increase of productivity," said Dolbreare. "Improving Afghanistan's agriculture will increase the Afghans' confidence in their own government and ultimately it will make them less susceptible to the insurgents."