Skelton says Missouri National Guard helps Afghan farmers end poppy farms
By: U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton
Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 9, 2009) — In October 2007, the Missouri National Guard personnel, with agricultural and business development expertise, as well as other essential skills, formed the Afghanistan Agribusiness Development Team to develop agribusiness in Afghanistan. Agriculture accounts for 45 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product and employs over 70 percent of the Afghan population. However, decades of war and neglect have devastated the country’s agricultural sector. As a result, one of the great needs in the country is to develop its agriculture potential, and I am so proud of the efforts of the Missouri National Guard, who assumed this mission on agribusiness development and have become a model for our international effort to help rebuild Afghanistan’s economy.
Through the years, Afghan farmers have found it profitable to grow poppies, which are then used to make heroin. The funding from this illicit drug trade has enabled the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists. The Missouri National Guard’s agribusiness specialists, many of whom bring years of experience and advanced degrees in agricultural-related fields, are showing Afghan farmers how to develop an agricultural economy not based on poppy production. Harnessing and projecting these talents in Afghanistan not only improves life for the Afghan people, it undermines Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists and exposes their ideology of destruction.
Before the Agribusiness Development Team arrived, U.S. military personnel and local Afghan leaders worked together to identify potential projects for the team. Since their arrival, the Guardsmen, with the help of the Afghan farmers, have completed a number of projects, including watershed management, improvements to seed programs, and construction of solar powered irrigation systems and wells. During my congressional trips to Afghanistan, I have seen first-hand how the team is developing agribusiness in the country. The Agribusiness Development Team is having a sustainable impact on the agricultural economy in Afghanistan.
The Team’s agribusiness specialists bring unique skills and capabilities to this project, but they have also collaborated with experts based in the U.S. by using the Internet, voice communications, and virtual satellite technology. The University of Missouri supports the agricultural academics working with the Missouri National Guard Agribusiness Development Team. The Agribusiness Development Team has also partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other federal government agencies to ensure a maximum use of resources, efficient coordination, and to avoid project duplication.
I applaud the Missouri National Guard for its contributions to this critical mission. It is heartening to know that our neighbors — members of the Guard, as well as experts at the University of Missouri, University Extension, and the Missouri Farm Bureau — are working together to help farmers and their families on the other side of the world.
Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at http://www.house.gov/skelton.