Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Hungry People

Villagers from the Shamal District jockey for position to be
among the first issued a set of chickens to take home from their training.

One lesson my father instilled upon me during my formative years is the necessity of a good plan. To this day, I can still hear him stressing “a wise captain always charts his course before setting sail.” The 3-19th ADT commander, Colonel Walt Colbert, must come from the same school of thought as my father as it seems we have done our fair share of charting since we hit ground here last September.

After four months of meeting with local leaders to assess needs of their respective villagers, we on the 3-19th ADT have finally set sail with a few projects of our own. The first mission designed to validate a training class held by a district ag extension agent took place in mid-January, just as I was departing for my leave back in the states. Upon my arrival back in country last week, I was pleased to return to an elaborate plan designed to visit all thirteen districts in an effort to provide specialized training to each.

The "K-G Pass" (Khost to Gardez) Highway dissects the
central bazaar.
My first mission (since returning from R&R) off of FOB Salerno sent me to visit the Shamal District, quite an appropriate mission for me to get back into the swing of things as Shamal was also the last district I visited  before leaving the country in mid-January.

During our last visit to Shamal, we were able to conduct a meeting with the District Governor to hear firsthand what some of the needs of his people might be. In addition to our meeting held in the safety of the District Center Compound, we were also able to walk through their local market or as the locals refer to it- the bazaar.

Apparently it had been quite some time since the locals had last seen Coalition Forces walk the streets of the main bazaar.

Between our meeting with the district officials and physical discussions with shopkeepers while walking through the local bazaar, two agricultural goods commonly came up as necessities: chickens and trees. “Trees” is quite a generic term, but for now let’s just assume forestry products in general. On a macro scale, the country of Afghanistan is going through a massive reforestation project. With trees planted numbering in the millions, an effort to reforest while also throttle back dangerous erosion levels is currently underway. Closer to home, the Shamal District is just kilometers away from Pakistan where lumber is far and away the most valuable commodity.

After a few weeks of internal discussions amongst our Ag team back in the confines of FOB Salerno, several project areas were chosen to focus our efforts on. The three main projects we determined would make the greatest impact- at least in the short-term; were composting, forestry, and poultry training. A new round of district visits would now need to be scheduled, this time (finally in the villagers eyes) we'd have a tangible good to deliver to the people.

The first order of business, before the products could be delivered to the people, would be training our trainers. Each of the province's13 district ag extension agents agreed to attend a one-day seminar, a continuing education type of instruction block, at Camp Parsa. During this day of hands-on practical instruction with members of our ag team, each agent had unlimited access to each of our project officers.

Shamal District Ag Extension Agent Mir Wais conducts a forestry training seminar
while Captain Randy Cuyler and I observe.

Depending on how a district governor or ag extension agent prioritized their needs, a flock of chickens or a bundle of trees- coupled with a training session, would soon be headed to the farmers of their respective districts. For Shamal, as stated earlier during our needs assessment, the highest priority fell in the area of forestry while poultry training was also mentioned as an area of importance. 

In preparation for a training session with the people of the Shamal District, our interpreters placed a call to the Khost Province Director of Extensions in an effort to reach the Shamal District Ag Extension Agent- Mir Wais. As you might expect, Mir gladly accepted our request for him to schedule a training event in the coming days. Sadly enough, you don't really have to plan all that far in advance to secure a strong turnout. Unfortunately there is not a whole lot else going on, very little to compete with when it comes to timing or scheduling issues.

Captain Randy Cuyler assists villagers of the Shamal District with the
bundling of their trees.

As the primary goal involved in a training seminar is showing the capacity of the Afghan Government, our goal as Coalition Forces was to stay out of the way as much as possible. Mir Wais conducted the training while only two of us (body armor and helmets off) did our best to blend in with the other students while observing his block of instruction. Utilizing training materials provided to him during our recent workshop, Mir provided instruction on tree care and planting to nearly a dozen farmers from the Shamal District.

In this video, you can see some of the training first hand. I did my best to capture a bit of the lesson on candid camera. By resting my iPhone on top of my chai glass, I was able to nonchalantly record a bit of the training without the disruption of a larger camcorder.

Immediately following the classroom training portion, Mir led the group of hungry farmers out into the commons area of the District Center. Upon arriving to the compound, members of our team had pre-positioned plastic bags loaded with 20 trees each to ease in the hand-out process. After a few last minute instructions, Mir began to conduct the great tree giveaway of 2011. I'm not certain I've ever seen grown men so eager to take ownership of a material good, the looks on their faces said it all. 

Last but not least, the men (proudly lugging around their newly acquired entry into the timber industry) began to line up behind the trailer that even an untrained nose could easily have sniffed out contained our chickens. The agreed upon take-home package for those who completed the block of instruction was 20 trees and 2 chickens. Having grown up on a farm, and also being the low-ranking member present from the Ag team, I volunteered my services as chicken wrangler. The elation I described in the last paragraph (on the men's faces after receiving their trees) was now the 2nd happiest I'd seen a grown man, I honestly think a few of them might have been drooling by the time I handed each of them their two birds.

Even after growing up on a farm, I never dreampt I'd have to go to Afghanistan to have the opportunity to wrangle a group of chickens...

KFC may now actually mean Khowst Fried Chicken in this part of the world, but regardless the farmers of the Shamal District now have a few more chickens roaming their pastures and possibly even a few trees lined up to mark their property lines.  Regardless of what these farmers do with the goods they take home from a training session, our goal of utilizing the Afghan government to conduct training was a smashing success. Mir Wais is now a credible agent of the people's government here in the Shamal District and the farmers know they can come to him with agricultural issues. Only time will tell how much the farmers choose to utilize Mir's knowledge base, but one thing is for certain- they had better not be serving chicken at the District Center the next time we pay a visit...

1 comment:

  1. HI Bart !! What breeds do best over there, Are they shipped from the U.S or hatched there ? Do the Afghans have enough access to a chicken feed grains supply ?