Washington State University, with a consortium of universities, gained funding from the U.S. government in September 2011 to participate in the Afghanistan Agriculture Extension Project (AAEP), a three-year effort to improve agricultural conditions in Afghanistan.
WSU received $3.12 million to assist one project led by the University of California, Davis, and $895,500 for another project led by Purdue University. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development provided $14 million to fund these projects and others in an effort to support the agricultural improvement in Afghanistan.
Jim Hill, the associate dean of international programs at UC Davis, leads one of the projects WSU is involved in. He coordinates with Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock in Afghanistan to apply research and also educate the surrounding community.
"Thirty years of conflict have left Afghanistan's agriculture far behind much of the world and with little capacity to improve it," Hill said in a statement on the UC Davis College of Agriculture website. "Our job is to help rebuild the capacity of the extension system to deliver good information to the Afghan farmers."
Chris Pannkuk, the WSU director of international programs research and agricultural development, said WSU has worked several projects regarding Afghan agriculture during the last 10 years. He said the consortium of universities for this project submitted a proposal together to the USDA.
“They have very limited production of the staple crops in Afghanistan,” Pannkuk said. “Most of the country is in poverty and most of the funds spent in the country come from outside sources. It is a developing country that needs assistance from the developed worlds.”
The staple crops in Afghanistan are wheat and other cereals like rice, barley and legumes, according to the AAEP's project brief. The yield for these crops is the same as it was in 1961, a poor level below the achievable, the brief said.
On the project, each university involved will contribute their specialties, Pannkuk said. Purdue will focus on post-harvest and storage, while WSU focuses on agriculture conservation and dry land crops.
The conservation agriculture techniques that WSU focuses on include reducing tillage and increasing ground cover, according to the AAEP brief. These efforts can increase production, improve soil and increase efficiency in crop water-use, the brief said.
Oumar Badini, the deputy chief of staff for the Nangarhar province section of the project, said in his sector they will build a model farm and training modules for the staff. This will include a demonstration of participative wheat variety selection, cultural practices and the conservation of agricultural techniques.
“I found working in Afghanistan certainly challenging because of the environment, but also rewarding because there is so much to do and one can make a lasting impact in improving lives and lifting people's hopes after almost 30 years of civil unrest and wars,” Badini said.
Badini said the project focuses on increasing the extension’s ability to meet the farmers’ needs. He said his own goal is to create a lasting impact by building the capacity of self-sufficiency of the farmers and professionals in Afghanistan.
Pannkuk said he hopes to see the projects succeed over the next three years. The five-year program to educate both exchange students and WSU students will also help the situation starting next fall.
“The Afghanistan people are very open to the development efforts, resources and knowledge we can extend,” Pannkuk said. “Afghan culture is very different in that they would find it rude not to be hospitable.”
The program officially launches this month, and Pannkuk leaves this semester to begin the work in Afghanistan.