Just a few students came out to catch a glimpse of Abdul Jabaar Naeemi, Governor of Khowst Province
As promised, it is high time to provide another update on the Future Farmers of Afghanistan project. The Governor was bumped last week due to the tragic loss of a friend and great counsel to our ADT, but alas- we shan't keep the Governor waiting any longer...
Colonel Chis Toner and Governor Naeemi discuss the Future Farmers of Afghanistan project during a briefing at Shaikh Zayed University
The program as originally designed calls for four distinct phases. Phase III, the mentorship phase, has recently come to a close here in the Khowst Province. During this phase, professors from Shaikh Zayed University left the comforts of campus life and headed out to work with the masses among our six pilot high schools.
The mentorship phase was also the portion where agricultural extension agents from each district in the province visited the schools to train their local farmers on the new equipment. Think of it as a take your parents (or local farmer) to school day. As curiosity in the community began to grow, neighbors were very interested to get inside of the fenced-in areas to see for themselves just what exactly those pesky Americans had been working with their youth on.
We first learned several weeks ago that Governor Naeemi was interested in receiving a first-hand account of the Future Farmers of Afghanistan project. Details were extremely vague at that point, but we did know he wanted to get out amongst the people to receive his update rather than have those involved come to him. As the Governor's visit came closer, we learned that he would also be accompanied by the Brigade Commander, Colonel Chris Toner.
One of the most important aspects of the FFA project to Governor Naeemi is the collaboration among different "line directors" within his government. Think of a line director as a cabinet member in terms of the American government model. The formation of this project required agreement between three different men, in a culture that is quite territorial- that can be a feat within itself. Highlighting the line directors collaboration, Governor Naeemi requested to visit Shaikh Zayed University to learn more about the project and even have the chance to speak directly with members of the Faculty of Agriculture who were deeply involved in the mentoring phase.
Both Governor Naeemi and Colonel Toner were extremely pleased with what they learned during their trip to campus. Colonel Toner actually has some credibility to speak about the past in this area as he was previously here as a Battalion Commander during 2006-2007. Toner was very impressed with the progress being made, stating "What our ADTs and this university have done with this forward-looking partnership has been phenomenal, and provides real hope for the agricultural future of the people in this area."
Dried goods from one of the solar dehydrators
As the summer heat is now in full-swing, it is not uncommon for the five-day forecast to read above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire five days. After some creative re-engineering, the resilient groundskeepers at several of the schools have found some very innovative ways to keep their greenhouses ventilated.
Virtually all of the schools are now taking their produce to market- a giant step forward for the project. With these profits re-invested within the farm, the ever-popular question of sustainability is addressed. Not only are the students receiving instruction on the obvious agriculture-related topics here, but a significant opportunity for these students to learn the intricacies of small-business finance has also presented itself.
For the last several months that the Future Farmers of Afghanistan project has been around, the Dean of Agriculture from Shaikh Zayed University has produced a weekly report for our team to summarize both his faculty's work as well as provide photographic evidence of training taking place. Below are a few excerpts from the latest report, this was actually the final report of the mentorship phase so the numbers shouldn't grow too much higher as the entire project comes to a finish.
117 - # of Teachers trained by Shaikh Zayed University
567 - # of high school students trained - total (438 males / 129 females)
6 - # of high schools selling agriculture products in local markets (6 of 6)
13 - # of Agriculture Extension Agents trained by Shaikh Zayed University
42 - # of local farmers trained at school sites by Agriculture Extension Agents
3 - # of Line Director signatories to project
Ready for Market
The culminating event in the mentorship phase consisted of an examination at each of the six schools. Participating students were evaluated on the practical use of a greenhouse, procedures for utilizing a drip irrigation system, the rearing of chickens, and even the preparation of compost.
An astounding 90% of the students tested agreed that the training they received was "practical and worthwhile". Those of you reading this with an education background might pick-up on an extremely positive theme with results such as these- the students are excited and see value in their studies.
While time here on the ground is starting to count down for the members of the 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team, the "rookie" season of the Future Farmers of Afghanistan project will also come to a close. With engaged students and even an interested populace, those from the 4-19th ADT should have great relationships and a sturdy foundation in place to go on and do even greater things for the people of Khowst Province.
Final Exam Time- Children from Gharghash High School taking their end of course examination under a shade tree