As we approached Norfolk, Va. yesterday, we could see the big seaport cranes in the distance, hovering over neat stacks of multicolored containers. Hulking cargo ships moved in and out of the port, one of the East Coast’s busiest, collecting and carrying U.S. products to millions of consumers overseas. Truck drivers, longshoremen, port police – so many careers make up a bustling port city. Somewhere in this flurry was the container we had come to see. We found it at the facilities of ARREFF, just beyond the water’s reach in the town of Portsmouth. ARREFF is a “transloader,” a business that packs, repacks and helps to transfer U.S. products destined for foreign markets.
Half a dozen men there were hefting sack after sack of soy flour, stacking each 50-pound bag into five 20-foot containers bound for Afghanistan. It is the first shipment of nearly 20,000 tons of U.S. soy products bound for Afghanistan under a USDA Food for Progress (FfP) agreement with the American Soybean Association’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, or WISHH. Roughly 30,000 Afghans will soon benefit from the 80 tons of high-protein soy flour being packed into these five shipping containers. And more than 400,000 Afghans will benefit over the life of the three-year, $28.7 million program. Executive Director of WISHH Jim Hershey says that his organization will place food technologists in Afghanistan to demonstrate to Afghan families how to incorporate soy flour into traditional local foods, such as bread.
Yesterday’s shipment, moreover, is just one piece of a larger initiative to help the Afghan people and their agricultural economy. Under this FfP agreement, WISHH, in collaboration with Shelter for Life and Nutrition and Education International, will implement a series of agricultural development projects in Afghanistan to rehabilitate watersheds, promote the role of women in agriculture, improve market access, and help make micro credit available to Afghan farmers. Some of the U.S. soy will be sold to fund the projects, while the rest – like this shipment of soy flour – will be distributed directly to Afghan families to bolster their nutrition.
More than a dozen soybean producers from Illinois, North Carolina and Virginia, as well as a representative from Cargill, joined USDA and WISHH at the ARREFF facilities to celebrate the shipment. ARREFF president John Fornazor gave us a tour of the Portsmouth loading facilities. ARREFF handles commercial and food aid shipments to all parts of the globe.
This shipment had particular significance for me, as I had visited Afghanistan just a few weeks ago for discussions on U.S.-Afghan efforts to help restore the nation’s once-vibrant agricultural sector. Afghanistan remains a food insecure nation – unable to produce or procure enough food to feed its people. However, on the whole, the country is starting to see important economic gains, including growth in GDP and agricultural products. At the same time, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, USDA and international partners are providing focused and sustained agricultural assistance to the Afghan people. With more than 80 percent of Afghans earning a living in agriculture, the nation and its people hold hope for a continued turnaround.
In the short term, the three-year partnership between USDA and WISHH will help to make ends meet for thousands of Afghans. And in the long term, the partnership will offer soy-based options for improved nutrition while helping to rebuild the agricultural sector necessary to feed every Afghan.
As we watched the shipping containers come and go by the thousands at the Port of Norfolk, I thought about the five containers we watched being loaded earlier. It’s more than soy flour. For many Afghans, it’s a hope.
To hear a USDA Radio story about the soy flour to Afghanistan, click here.