SOFT POWER: Winning Hearts and Minds and Crops and Cattle

November 29, 2012 at 1:19 am 1 comment

The Farmer/Soldier in the Dell

ARLINGTON, Va. – While U.S. and coalition troops training Afghan police and soldiers have gotten a lot of attention over the last year or two – mainly because of attacks by some of the people they’ve been training – less attention has been given another type of soldier: the ones teaching Afghan farmers how to do a better job of farming.

Sgt. 1st Class Mike Spurgin, a member of the Indiana National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team, in Khost, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jenny Lui)

Agriculture is still the largest source of income in Afghanistan – even though only 12 percent of the land is arable and only half of that is currently under cultivation.

Before the Soviet invasion and occupation (1979-1980) Afghanistan’s agricultural exports exceeded imports. But after nearly a decade of war, the fruit orchards have been cut down or bombed out. Forests have been decimated and irrigation canals destroyed or allowed to deteriorate.

Now, “they lack everything,” says retired Army Lt. Col. Craig Beardsley. “I don’t know how else to say it. They lack basic education in agriculture,” he told a recent conference on Human Geography.

Beardsley, is administrator of a program at Kansas State University that trains National Guard teams from agricultural regions how to teach better farming and livestock raising to the Afghans.

So far, KSU’s National Agricultural Biosecurity Center has trained four Kansas National Guard Agribusiness Development Teams and two from the South Carolina National Guard. They have also trained several units assigned to the 1st Infantry Division – including a Female Engagement Team (see below). The Agribusiness teams are from National Guard units in farm states.

The conference, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) brought together academics, military officers and industry experts to discuss trends and developments in human geography – a multi-discipline study of where a conflict is taking place and the culture, language and customs of the people who live there: friend and foe alike.

Beardsley said the teams his school send to Afghanistan are educated in Afghanistan culture and economics. They’re also trained in business development and business management to help Afghan farmers market their products and manage their resources.

He pointed out that while Afghanistan exports raw products like grain and fruit but imports processed – and value-added products like flour, juice and dried fruit. Most of Afghanistan’s agricultural exports go to Pakistan, India and Iran.

The emphasis is on keeping instruction simple and practical – something the Afghans can continue and maintain after the U.S. advisors leave.

He and others at the conference noted that the 11-year war in Afghanistan is more like a series of one-year wars because foreign trainers come for about a year and then are replaced by new trainers who might be from a different country.

For example, Beardsley said, it’s a mistake to assume the introduction of U.S. Agricultural techniques, equipment and seed “will solve all problems.” He noted 80 percent of the economy is agricultural, based on subsistence farming.

Two U.S. soldiers and a beekeeper look into a beehive during a visit to Afghanistan’s Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock Department in Khost. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jenny Lui)

Among other lessons learned: the importance of getting to know who is in charge in a village – whether it be an elder, mullah or landowner.

“In the home, the women have more influence than we give credit for,” Beardsley said. That’s where the Female Engagement Teams – squads of female soldiers or Marines who accompany patrols – prove their value, he said. They can glean a lot of information, both military and economic by talking to Afghan women, something their male counterparts cannot do because of cultural taboos.


Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, Lessons Learned, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Robert James Nielsen  |  November 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I just wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger award! Keep up the amazing work!


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