Since 2009, one of the U.S. government’s top priorities has been to help restore Afghanistan’s once vibrant agricultural sector.
With 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population involved in farming, herding or both, agriculture is the main driver of the Afghan economy. However, only 12 percent of the country’s total land is arable and less than six percent is currently cultivated.
The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) is helping to rebuild agricultural markets and improve management of natural resources in Afghanistan through a variety of activities, one of which is the Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program.
The Borlaug program helps developing countries strengthen sustainable agricultural practices by providing scientific training and collaborative research opportunities to visiting researchers, policymakers and university faculty. Since 2006, 28 Afghans have participated in the program.
In September, eight agricultural officials from Afghanistan spent two weeks in the United States to participate in the Borlaug Program’s executive management training. The fellows met with USDA leadership and other state and local agricultural leaders and farmers in the country. One of the fellows said he appreciated USDA’s commitment to share technology and agricultural research for Afghanistan and other developing countries through efforts such as the Borlaug program.
“Most of our population relies upon agriculture, and it’s my desire to help decrease famine within our country and around the world,” said Hukum Khan Habibi, the general director of Afghanistan’s Extension and Agricultural Development. Habibi is a former Borlaug fellow and has since worked his way up the ladder from an associate agricultural professor to his current position. “I’m sure this visit will help us improve our agricultural sector by learning how USDA works from the top level down to the farmers.”
The eight fellows were from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) and represented six provinces within the country. They spent their first three days in Washington, D.C. where they learned how USDA delivers services to farmers and consumers, manages federal programs and conducts policy development.
“The goal of the program was to equip the visiting officials with a strong understanding of USDA’s executive structure so they may positively influence the planning, organization and institutional capacity of their agriculture ministry,” said Karen Uetrecht, the Africa and Middle East Borlaug program manager for FAS.
During their time in Washington D.C., the group was able to visit USDA’s People’s Garden, where they were especially interested in the growing produce such as soybeans, rice and peppers. The group also visited the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) headquarters in Beltsville, Md. In addition, they met with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Baltimore where the fellows received specialized leadership and strategic management training.
The fellows then spent a week at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Wash., where they learned how the U.S. land grant university system conducts research and brings new technologies to agricultural producers and agribusinesses. They met with local small farmers and also learned about family and youth agricultural extension programs.
Over the years, Afghan Borlaug fellows have been trained on topics including animal health, post-harvest processing, rangeland management and horticulture. Since the Borlaug program’s inception in 2004, more than 500 agricultural professionals from 64 developing countries have received training.