BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (Army News Service, Jan. 22, 2009) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team began an ambitious project aiming to increase the fertility of the soil in Konar province, Afghanistan.

Konar valley has a rich culture of farming. However, this culture has faced many setbacks, including infrastructure damage during 30 years of warfare and harsh terrain.

"In order to help the people of Konar grow crops more efficiently, we need to know what they have to work with," said Bruce Dubee, USDA and Konar PRT member and a Doswell, Va., native. "Through laboratory analysis, we can find out what they are working with."

Soil samples are being collected throughout the province to be added to a database that documents soil types from around the world. Currently, Afghanistan has no information in this database.

Jason Nemecek, USDA and Konar PRT member, and a Santa Fe, N.M., native, summarizes the importance of the project. "In the United States, with our knowledge of agriculture, we can produce 100 bushels of wheat per acre of land. Here, they can only produce 30 bushels. If we want to improve their lives, we need to simply shrink that gap."

Local Afghan workers are helping with the process by digging seven foot holes to allow the soil to be sampled in layers. Once examined and labelled, some samples are prepared for the journey back to the U.S.

Half of the samples are sent to the USDA's National Laboratory in Lincoln, Neb. for analysis; while the other half are kept in Afghanistan to be tested in local labs, in hopes to one day provide analysis on a more individual scale.

With the combined efforts of the USDA and Konar PRT, soil samples have been collected from Khas Konar, Watapor and Asadabad, the capital of Konar province.

Although the soil in each region has its own unique characteristics, they are all very similar in one aspect.

"There is a lot of really good soil," said Ed Tallyn, USDA and Konar PRT member, and a Davis, Calif., native. "In the United States, this would be classified as prime farmland. We would pay people not to develop on it."

The three-man soil analysis team, comprised of Jason Nemecek, Ed Tallyn, and Bruce Dubee, have over 65 years of combined experience and plan to continue soil sampling in the Farah province before they head back to the United States.

In the years to come the information gathered here could be the catalyst for an agricultural resurgence in Konar province providing a greater understanding of agriculture throughout not only Afghanistan but throughout Asia as well.

(Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle serves with the Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs Office.)