News / Asia

Honey, Saffron are Weapons in Afghanistan Battle

American farmer-soldiers, scientists form part of US counterinsurgency strategy

US farmer-soldiers assist Afghan farmers with crops like this small purple flower, which is being raised for saffron, the valuable spice the bloom produces.
US farmer-soldiers assist Afghan farmers with crops like this small purple flower, which is being raised for saffron, the valuable spice the bloom produces.

Multimedia

Audio

While U.S. forces battle daily with Taliban insurgents and try to uproot Al Qaeda terrorists, other teams of American soldier-specialists are engaged in another challenging but very different mission: working directly with Afghan farmers to increase crop yields and family incomes.

These nine Agribusiness Development Teams, or ADTs, are part of the part of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.

They hope their aid programs will win over farmers whose loyalty is wavering between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Sharing an agricultural worldview

The Kansas National Guard ADT is made up of about 60 volunteer soldiers, who are using their military and civilian skills - especially agricultural skills - to help Afghan farm families with sustainable, Afghan-appropriate projects.

Their commander, Col. Eric Peck, says the soldiers' farming experience helps them understand the worldview of Afghan farmers.

"It's an agricultural economy, an agricultural community, and if you have that understanding and that background, it helps. It gives you a leg up in understanding how they work and what they're focused on."

The ADT programs focus on irrigation, livestock, high-value crops and education. Team member Col. Roger Beekman he hopes to help a land ravaged by decades of war.

"Agriculture has been called 'the oil of Afghanistan,'" he says. "It's what they have now to create money with and sustain themselves with. At some point, there may be minerals in the mountains and stuff, but right now it's agriculture. And historically, this has been a good agricultural area, dating back thousands of years. The last 30 years have set that back, so we're trying to build that back up again."

The ADT emphasizes education and mentoring. Peck says his soldiers are sensitive to the Afghans' cultural wisdom, "because we aren't in charge. Our job is to assist them in doing what they want to do better."

The ADT programs focus on education, irrigation, livestock and high-value crops, such as the saffron grown in this field.
The ADT programs focus on education, irrigation, livestock and high-value crops, such as the saffron grown in this field.

A golden crop

There are a lot of shovels-in-the-ground programs, such as one test farm in Laghman Province.

As heavily armed ADT security soldiers stand guard, agricultural specialists Beekman and his colleague Maj. Troy Price point out some of the projects, a vineyard, a fruit orchard, and a field of crocuses.

Small purple flowers are the crown jewels of the ADT test farm. They are being raised for saffron, the valuable spice the blooms produce. ADT specialists confer with the Afghan village elder who is overseeing the saffron crop.

The saffron field is a terraced brown field with small flowers huddled near the ground. On the inside of the crocus blooms are tiny red-orange strings, called stigmas, which are the valuable saffron spice. The Afghan men plant and cultivate the crocuses, and then the village women do the painstaking harvesting work of separating the stigmas from the flower.

Maj. Price says saffron has many uses. "They use it for fragrances, for spice for the food. They found there's some anti-cancer agent. They've found it can be used for women who are having trouble with pregnancy. It's good for heart ailments. The more we mess with this stuff, the more we find new things it can be used for. Very useful crop, very profitable."

Can crocuses displace poppies?

Saffron brings big bucks in the developed world.

In addition to boosting farm income, the ADT also hopes it will replace another high-profit crop: the opium poppies that help finance the Taliban. But the soldiers admit that if not administered well, the saffron profits could also be channeled to fund the insurgency.

Still, though saffron and other ADT projects have their share of challenges, the village elder says the Kansas farmer-soldiers are having a positive impact. They've done a lot of work here, he says. They made a greenhouse, a women's affairs garden and the demo farm here.

Sgt. Jo Lisa Ashley tends to the bees of Bagram in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Jo Lisa Ashley tends to the bees of Bagram in Afghanistan.

Sweetening the pot

Another weapon in the  ADT arsenal is honey.

The Kentucky National Guard ADT is a hand-picked team of five dozen soldier-farmers includes men and women with agricultural and scientific backgrounds.

Sgt. Jo Lisa Ashley, the ADT's beekeeper, says her team distributed 200 hives to dozens of farmers in Parwan and Kapisa provinces.

"The farmers, the women, are actually out working. I've gotten pictures back from the trainers of the women working in the hives." 

In addition to sweetening Afghan farm incomes with increased yields and honey to sell, the bees have provided a way for Afghan women to empower themselves.

"The women were older, illiterate," Ashley says. "A lot of women in Afghanistan are not educated, because the Taliban didn't allow it. They're actually gaining a skill beyond cooking and cleaning."

The beekeeping operation is a multi-national effort. The Kentucky soldiers provide the Afghan women with Afghan-made wooden hives and Italian honeybees.

Ashley says the hives have thrived. "Each hive averaged anywhere from four to six kilos of honey. So that's pretty good for the first year."

And the bees have had a big impact on the rest of the agricultural economy as well, according to Greg Schlentz, an advisor with the U.S. civilian-military team that brought bees to Panjshir Province.

Bees are pollinators, he explains, and "if the crops are not pollinated, you're not going to have fruit or produce. By bringing the bees in, we increased pollination and increased their fruit production, I'm going to guess, by 15 to 20 percent, at least."

Honeybees and fighter jets

Sgt. Ashley also tends beehives in an unexpected place: the giant Bagram Air Field near the capital of Kabul.

The Bees of Bagram are perched on top of a wrecked Afghan building, which is emblazoned with a spray-painted red sign reading "Warning: Live Bees." The three hives overlook concrete runways where fighter jets are taking off.

The ADT uses these Bagram hives as a kind of experimental farm, to test new apiary techniques before teaching them to the Afghan beekeepers.

Sgt. Ashley is an unlikely beekeeper. She's a University of Kentucky biology graduate, but never worked with bees before coming to Afghanistan. She admits it was a bit frightening, at first.

"I had on the full bee veil and gloves, and tucked my blouse into my pants. As you can see now, I have on shorts and a sweatshirt. No veil, no gloves. And I have one landing on my hand and I'm not freaking out. I've definitely come a long way."

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid