Campus News

On a mission

National Guardesmen
George Boyhan (center)

Ag faculty prep Georgia Guard for agricultural trip to Afghanistan

A team of Georgia National Guardsmen will deploy to Afghanistan in May on a special mission to revitalize the war-torn country’s agriculture industry.

Agricultural experts from UGA helped arm them with the knowledge to do it.

Late last month, 21 members of the 201st Agribusiness Development Team visited UGA to get hands-on training from specialists with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The guardsmen learned about irrigation, crop production, pest management, soil assessment, livestock management and food storage.

“This is not a typical training session for us, but when the Georgia National Guard asked for help, we wanted to do all we could,” said Steve Brown, assistant dean for Cooperative Extension. “While our scientists may not be experts in Afghan agriculture, the basics are the same worldwide.”

Experts also taught the guardsmen how to hold and care for chickens, walk through a beehive, prune fruit trees and milk cows. These are essential skills for a country whose agriculture industry is decades behind those of developed countries.

The handpicked guard unit is based at Fort Gordon in Augusta but members hail from across the state. The team consists of engineers, teachers, pesticide applicators, veterinarians, marketing experts and farmers. It also includes four UGA alumni: Gary Church, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; Carmen Benson, CAES; George McCommon, CAES and the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Catherine Tait, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

“UGA provides the technical expertise and the experience for this education,” said Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski, media relations officer for the Georgia National Guard. “Afghans are using farming methods that are hundreds of years old in a soil that is depleted of all nutrients. The talent, expertise and knowledge shared with us at UGA will help us to perform this important mission.”

More than 80 percent of Afghanistan residents are farmers, but they lack the knowledge to produce viable crops and productive yields.

Baldowski hopes Georgia Guardsmen will help Afghan farmers learn to produce crops to feed their families and possibly to export.

“Afghanistan may be a high-tech battlefield, but its agricultural practices are like those of America’s during the 1900s, or in some cases the 1800s,” said Col. Bill Williams, who commands Augusta’s 201st Regional Support Group. “And the income of its people, especially the farmers, is in terrible shape.”

Thirty years of war and prolonged drought have set Afghan farmers back, said Williams, who will lead the first of three ADT teams to Afghanistan this spring. Georgia is the 13th state to send a specialized ADT team to Afghanistan. The 201st will replace a group from Nevada when they arrive in May.

Potatoes, apples, apricots, wheat and eggplant are staples for Afghan farmers. Obstacles like watershed management, lack of refrigeration, limited access to markets and quality seed sources, and transportation hurdles make rebuilding the Afghanistan agriculture industry difficult.

“Our goal is to assist the government in administering these programs by mentoring them so that the government can run them,” Williams said. “Assisting the farmers and villages in creating markets for their food so they can be more self-sufficient and not dependent on foreign imports is a key component to our mission.”

Although the National Guard team is being deployed, they all volunteered to be a part of this team. A sincere desire to help the Afghan people improve their farming practices and better their lives-and the future of their country-is at the heart of their mission.

“Even though we are in some dangerous territory, they are good people and that is what is rewarding,” Williams said. “They are no different than us. The way things get done is through relationships. Loyalty and commitment are very important to them, as it is to us.”