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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
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 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.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid