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America’s Arbor Day Traditions Shared with Afghan Delegation

In honor of Arbor Day, I helped plant a tree at USDA’s National Arboretum on Friday morning, April 29. What made this unique from the thousands of similar tree plantings taking place nationwide today is that I was joined by a visiting delegation of Afghan agricultural experts.

The delegation included agricultural leaders from Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province who are part of an agricultural exchange program hosted by the National Guard Bureau’s Texas Agribusiness Development Team (ADT) IV.  Washington, D.C., is the first stop on a nearly two-week trip to the United States, which will include training and presentations by some of this country’s premier agricultural experts.

Pictured at the U.S. National Arboretum tree planting ceremony are (L-R) Mohammad Saber Rahimi, interpreter; LTC Brian Stevens, Texas Agribusiness Team Commander; Scott Aker, Garden Unit Leader, U.S. National Arboretum; Colien Hefferan, director, U.S. National Arboretum; Major General Darren Owens, Special Assistant to the Director Army National Guard; Sultan Hossain, Ghazni Province Director of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL); Abdul Fatah, Ghazni University Senior agricultural student; Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Deputy Under Secretary Darci Vetter; Qadier Nur, First Secretary for Economic Affairs, Afghan Embassy; and Zafar Sharif, District Governor of Jaghori District (in Ghazni Province)

Pictured at the U.S. National Arboretum tree planting ceremony are (L-R) Mohammad Saber Rahimi, interpreter; LTC Brian Stevens, Texas Agribusiness Team Commander; Scott Aker, Garden Unit Leader, U.S. National Arboretum; Colien Hefferan, director, U.S. National Arboretum; Major General Darren Owens, Special Assistant to the Director Army National Guard; Sultan Hossain, Ghazni Province Director of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL); Abdul Fatah, Ghazni University Senior agricultural student; Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Deputy Under Secretary Darci Vetter; Qadier Nur, First Secretary for Economic Affairs, Afghan Embassy; and Zafar Sharif, District Governor of Jaghori District (in Ghazni Province)

Friday’s tree planting was the perfect way to start the visit. Together, we planted a deodar cedar, which is not only widely used as an ornamental plant in parks and gardens across the United States, but also grows abundantly in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province and is a major source of that country’s timber.

This partnership between the United States and Afghanistan will carry on throughout the delegation’s U.S. tour. The majority of the remainder of the trip will be spent at Texas A&M University in College Station where the delegation will receive training on animal and plant health, water resource management, veterinary medicine, dairy production and much more.

After participating in this exchange program, members of the Ghazni delegation will bring lessons learned back to their provinces and villages to teach fellow Afghans new agricultural processes and techniques.

Beyond the training given to this Afghan delegation, U.S. military and civilians serving in Afghanistan on ADTs and Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) – including more than 50 USDA agricultural experts – work side-by-side with Afghan farmers and officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) every day to help renew Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, which has been devastated by 30 years of constant conflict. By sharing our agricultural skills and expertise, the United States is not only helping revitalize agriculture, but is ultimately helping build a brighter future for Afghanistan.

Today, I’m reminded of something Afghan Minister of Agriculture Asif Rhamini said while I visited Afghanistan last November, “Work hard and work fast and work together. Together we win.”

The tree we planted together in the Arboretum this morning is now a growing symbol of our countries’ continued combined efforts to revitalize Afghanistan’s agriculture.

To learn more about USDA’s efforts in Afghanistan, visit our Agriculture in Afghanistan website.

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