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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease 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.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid