WASHINGTON - One of the biggest hurdles to self-sustainment in Afghanistan is slowly being overcome by Missouri National Guard members, said the state's Sen. Christopher Bond during a press conference in his office here Dec. 22.
Bond was referring to the Missouri Guard's Agricultural Development Teams, the first of which was stood up in 2007.
The ADTs are made up of Guard members who have a civilian background in farming or a related agricultural business, and they are using those skills to teach Afghan farmers sustainable farming practices.
"We need the kinetic force to deal with the immediate threats, but we need economic development," said Bond. "We need to empower these people to run their country, to thrive and make a good life."
Agriculture, said Bond, is one of the key economic engines of Afghanistan where roughly half the population makes their living by farming.
Bond, who recently returned from Afghanistan on a fact-finding trip, said the Guard ADTs are one step toward the goal of self-sufficiency.
"The Missouri Guard ADT set up a canning plant for canning fruits and vegetables so they don't have to be shipped to Pakistan and then come back at a much higher price," said Bond. "These are steps that are putting them on to being self-sufficient."
The ADT program was first conceived in 2007 by Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard. Vaughn, who hails from Missouri, reached out to members of the Missouri farming community to ascertain if the program was a viable one.
"About a year and a half ago I got a phone call from [Lt.] Gen. Vaughn," said Charlie Kruse, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. "He said 'I want to talk to you about a concept I have in mind of how we can further the cause of farming in Afghanistan by taking farmers who happen to be in the National Guard and deploying them to Afghanistan to work side-by-side with farmers in Afghanistan.' And not just farmers, but agri-business people and people who have expertise in certain parts of agriculture."
Representatives from the Missouri Farm Bureau, including Kruse, and the Missouri Guard worked together to determine what was needed to develop the teams, said Vaughn. Additionally, they reached out to colleges and universities with agriculture programs for further assistance.
"Because of the Missouri Farm Bureau, we were then able to put together a package to recommend to the National Guard Bureau how we [organize the teams]." said Maj. Gen. King Sidwell, adjutant general for the Missouri National Guard.
As part of the planning process, they also met with the Afghanistan Minister of Agriculture to determine the country's needs, said Sidwell.
The first ADT deployed in late 2007 and recently returned home as a second team deployed overseas. While the first team was composed entirely of Army Guard personnel, the second team has Air Guard members as well.
The first team focused primarily on large-scale projects such as irrigation issues, and the second team is focusing on other projects such as seed production, said Sidwell. Providing seeds is one aspect of providing for a sustainable farming base.
"[The ADT] bought wheat seed for the wheat farmers," said Bond. "They gave it to the wheat farmers under a contract that said out of the 3,600 metric tons of wheat you grow next year, you have to set aside 600 tons for planting next year. They'll have, under the supervision of the ADT, the wheat to plant next year and get them back into sustainable farming."
The program also assists with traditional military operations as well.
"It helps in the military kinetic part because it involves cooperation of the local population and intelligence resources can be brought to bear," said Sidwell. "It makes friends when you might not otherwise be able to make friends."
And the successes of the Missouri ADTs have resulted in the formation of other teams.
"As we enjoy success there are other states standing up similar teams to be deployed to other parts of the country," said Sidwell.
And that is part of the plan.
"When we entered into this project it was not with the idea that we would go once and that would be it," said Sidwell. "This is envisioned to be a long-term commitment."
And that commitment, and the successes already garnered, are a direct result of the Guard, said Bond.
"This is a success that I welcome the opportunity to talk about," said Bond. "It started with the Missouri National Guard and is now involving National Guard units from other states. It shows the flexibility of the Guard, which can do the military missions, the civil missions and, in this case, the agricultural missions."