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NRCS Around the World: Overcoming Obstacles in Afghanistan

This story has three parts. Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 later in the week.

When I arrived in Afghanistan as a USDA Agriculture Advisor in 2005, I was overwhelmed with what I found: an arid climate, agriculture being practiced in much the same way that it had been for thousands of years and corresponding agriculture technology. The direction that I had been given was: Find out what needs to be done, and get something on the ground.

In the two provinces where I was stationed, Uruzgan and Zabul, I found an asset—a never-ending wind. Although the constant, powerful wind often led to dust storms that could last several days and ground all air support, it gave me an idea.

I started thinking about how in the western U.S. ranchers use windmill pumps for water storage for livestock. I had already found productive soils at an elevation above the floodplain where gravity could not be used to help move water. Windmills can be used to pump water from a river, well or other suitable source. I did not want to start farmers on well irrigation because of my concern that groundwater aquifers would be negatively impacted by the new water demands. My goal was to pump from the river to an elevation above the floodplain, and then let gravity aid the water’s flow from the storage tank to the cropland.

Through the Internet, I found a company in the UK that manufactured windmill water pumps designed specifically for developing countries. These pumps had a basic design and were relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain.

But I couldn’t just buy a pump from the company directly. Instead, their representative put me in touch with a man in Pakistan who held a manufacturing license. (Manufacturing licenses for the company’s pumps are sold to individuals in developing countries, so manufacturing and transporting the pumps is more efficient and less costly.) But when I called him, I found out he didn’t speak English. So I went back to the company, where a man named Sandy took up my cause.

Sandy gave me a fax number and said I could fax my questions to a man in Pakistan, whose brother-in-law lived down the street and spoke and read English—they didn’t have access to a computer, so e-mail was out. It sounded like a great idea, until I realized no one with the military in Afghanistan used fax machines anymore.

Now what?

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NRCS employee Jeff Sanders in Afghanistan

NRCS employee Jeff Sanders in Afghanistan

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