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Published May 24, 2010, 12:40 PM

Iowa Guard will help Afghanistan rebuild ag system

JOHNSTON, Iowa — Iowa’s National Guard has a reputation for carrying out its missions efficiently.

JOHNSTON, Iowa — Iowa’s National Guard has a reputation for carrying out its missions efficiently.

We can’t wait to see what grows out of its latest endeavor — and we do mean grows, as in traditional Iowa farming fashion.

A 60-member volunteer team of the Iowa Air and Army National Guard members will deploy on a one-year mission designed to rebuild Afghanistan’s agricultural economy.

Troops will work with farmers and businesses in Kunar Province in northeast Afghanistan in an effort to provide food for personal use by Afghanis and for sale through the country, perhaps even foreign markets.

A side benefit would be reducing the country’s dependence on the notorious poppy crop. That crop makes up an estimated 90 percent of the world’s opium, used to make heroin, and accounts for a third of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to the United Nations.

Back to basics

Iowa’s soldiers would instead help Afghani farmers get back to the basics of traditional agriculture, according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

It’s a mission that promises plenty of challenges. Almost 90 percent of Kunar Province is mountainous or semi-mountainous. The rest is flatland. So, as Vilsack says, this won’t amount to turning land into Iowa-like cornfields.

“This is really about focusing on what they can do with very limited resources, very limited technology,” Vilsack says.

There is a distinct method to this mission, not just going over and throwing seeds in the ground.

Volunteers were selected based on skills needed to continue projects started by a California agribusiness development team.

Guard members also are working with Iowa State University in Ames, where some of the best ag experts in the world do research to help feed the world, so they can advise Afghan farmers on best practices for the cold, cold winters and hot, hot summers.

Looking for change

Also, the mission is directly in step with our military and diplomatic leaders’ beliefs that the U.S. cannot succeed in Afghanistan just by using force. They think cultural changes are essential and that Afghanis involved are less likely to join the enemy if they are engaged in profitable ag enterprises.

“When people have something to lose they are less interested in having insecurity in their area,” Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, says about the mission.

So come August, the volunteers will have their boots in the soil of Afghanistan, starting their year-long mission.

That doesn’t seem like a lot of time, given all the weather variables, not to mention the war that rages in the country.

But again, our soldiers have proven themselves to be outstanding in carrying out their missions. We have every reason to think that Afghanistan will be a better — and certainly better-fed — nation for their efforts.