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From battlefields to farmers’ fields

April 27, 2011

Category: A Closer Look

At Fresno State in June 2010, an agricultural expert advises U.S. Marine Corps officers who are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

CSU helps USMC prepare soil, plant seeds for a safer Afghanistan;

pre-deployment ‘basic training’ in agriculture helps to counter insurgency

When the firefight abates amid the war zone in Afghanistan, some U.S. Marine Corps officers head off to nearby farms – armed with a basic training in agriculture provided by the California State University Consortium for International Development.

Along with improving quality of life and fostering good local governance, improving agricultural sustainability is a key goal of counter-insurgency efforts in embattled regions, said Bill Erysian, CID executive director.

“Agriculture is the number-one non-security issue facing Afghan peace and stability,” he said.

To help U.S. forces address it, CID developed a week-long training course called “Rapid Assessment of Farming Systems in Non-Secured Areas.” Presented last June at Fresno State, the course’s first graduates were 15 officers with the 11th Marine Regiment Civil Affairs Detachment, stationed at Camp Pendleton. They then deployed to Helmand Province; and they debriefed Erysian and his colleagues when they returned to the U.S.

Lessons learned in Afghan fields

When the firefight abates amid the war zone in Afghanistan, some U.S. Marine Corps officers head off to nearby farms – armed with a basic training in agriculture provided by the California State University Consortium for International Development. “They said the information we provided was very useful about what to expect in and around the farmers,” said Erysian. Although their agricultural mission was limited due to ongoing fighting, the officers developed demonstration farms and conducted soil tests. “They were kept busy with security issues most of the time,” he said.

A second unit of 20 went through the course last month at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is about to deploy to Helmand Province. A third group will train this June in Fresno. Each group’s goal is to engage in marine-to-farmer contact. They are seeking to help build connections that allow the U.S. to help local farmers boost their agricultural success.

The training includes lessons and boots-on-the-ground field work on soil, irrigation, livestock, crops, and post-harvest issues. The Marine Corps selected Fresno, Erysian said, because of the region’s agro-climatic similarities with Afghanistan. Both grow wheat, raisins, almonds, pomegranates, vegetables and other crops in common. CID would like to expand the “Rapid Assessment” project to a national scale, he said.

Expert views on olives, poultry, water

Meanwhile, experts in international development from the five CSU campuses involved in the CID (Fresno, Like neighborly farmers do, a U.S. Marine shakes hands with an Afghan. Chico, San Luis Obispo, Pomona and Humboldt) have provided technical support and advice to U.S. National Guard Agricultural Development Teams (ADT) in Afghanistan. (According to Erysian, while the USMC civil affairs officers have little or no agricultural background prior to their training, many of the National Guard ADT personnel are, in civilian life, farmers by trade.)

For example:

  • CID experts have helped the California National Guard design and establish a poultry farm in Kunar Province.
  • They have recommended to the Missouri National Guard ways to help improve olive-oil processing in Nangarhar Province.
  • They have supported the Kentucky National Guard in Parwan Province with advice on watershed management.

Around the 36th parallel

U.S. Marines talk agriculture with an Afghan farmer.Describing CID to a national conference of agricultural academicians recently, Erysian said, “We are located in the heart of central California’s San Joaquin Valley, the world’s largest agriculture-producing region, with nearly $37 billion in gross farm receipts each year,” (His full remarks are in this video.)

“The agro-climatic environment between Afghanistan and Central California is remarkably similar. We grow nearly all the crops that are farmed in Afghanistan. We experience similar weather patterns, and even have common salinity problems with our soil.

“All you have to do is simply follow the 36th degree-north latitude and you can understand why there are so many similarities.”

For further exploration:

CSU Consortium for International Development

A group of five California State Universities (Chico, Fresno, Humboldt, Pomona and San Luis Obispo) with active and diverse expertise in international development projects. The CSUCID was established in 2005 to offer a core of expertise to high-priority Federal and Non-Governmental international agriculture and related development initiatives underway across the globe. Currently, the CSUCID boasts a database of more than 400 faculty and industry specialists with international development experience.

Marines learn agriculture to help Afghan farmers Video and text:

Excerpt: Marine 1st Lt. Karl Kadon, a 25-year-old officer from Cincinnati, Ohio, briefed media on the course and the intent of the mission in southwestern Afghanistan. He summed it up, “We’re on the constructive side, not the destructive side.” His group of civil affairs officers will accompany infantry and work directly with the farmers “to help them with their livelihood.” But to accomplish that mission, he said, the Marines need a basic understanding of farming that can be applied to Afghanistan and its people.

CID’s Erysian to agricultural symposium at Ball State on working on Afghanistan training: Video:

Erysian’s main message: “Let us not forget the role of agriculture…. It accounts for 45 percent of Afghan GDP, and employs over 80 percent of the population.”

Deploying Marines take agriculture classes (AP report in Marine Corps Times) Text:

Excerpt: “Agriculture is the mainstay of the Afghan culture, and it’s the glue that holds their society together,” said 1st Lt. Karl Kadon, who will lead the Marines’ mission in Afghanistan. “So if we can go in and help people with some of their problems or get them the answers, then that will go a long way toward building trust and rapport between Americans and Afghans.”

— Sean Kearns

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