Forward Operating Base Sharana, Paktika, Afghanistan – Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began building up its corps of civilian agricultural experts from 11 in 2009 to 60 in 2010, USDA’s focus in Afghanistan has shifted from small-scale development to large-scale capacity building. Greater resources has allowed USDA and our U.S. government partners to help build and train a team of Afghan agricultural extension workers that bring better tools and technologies to farmers in rural areas – much like our extension service in the United States. In southeast Afghanistan, in a volatile province called Paktika, six teams of Afghan agricultural trainers and extension workers are leading a variety of low-cost projects that are uniting communities and growing agricultural production and diversity.
The Afghan trainers and extension workers are helping to build fruit dryers, greenhouses, stone masonry floodwalls, and strengthening reservoirs, irrigation canals and subterranean irrigation structures with rock walls and supports. Each trainer is college educated, motivated, adaptable, and driven to improve agriculture and improve the lives of the people in Paktika. By the end of the construction season, four demonstration food dryers will be located in the district centers in West Paktika. District Centers function much like town squares in the United States, providing a space for businesspeople and customers to interact. By displaying the food dryers in West Paktika, the extension workers hope to draw interest from local carpenters in constructing additional dryers. The extension workers then will train the carpenters in fruit dryer construction, while at the same time training farmers in food dryer use. The goal is to have fruit dryers readily available in several districts by the 2011 apricot season.
The Afghan extension workers have also taught farmers and village leaders in nine districts how to assemble and manage high tunnel greenhouses. High tunnels, or hoop houses, are unheated greenhouses that can help farmers extend their growing season and improve profitability. At least two greenhouses in each district are ready to use through November. The Afghan extension workers perform greenhouse demonstrations on extending growing seasons, starting a nursery, or starting seedlings.
As we train greater numbers of Afghan extension workers throughout the country, water projects will also get much-needed attention. In Paktika, extension workers are working with the village leaders and local government officials to facilitate cash for work projects using U.S. military development funds. Each project has a maximum budget of $5,000 and a minimum in-kind contribution of 30 percent by the villages, with an average of 45 percent going to local salaries. At the end of October, a total of 23 projects in four districts were completed, including 43 rock-lined manholes to access subterranean irrigation structures, over 1 km of flood walls, and over 1 km of irrigation canal lining. All prioritization, planning, implementation, and oversight was provided by Afghans for Afghans in a province with a 4 percent literacy rate and an unskilled workforce.