News / USA

Traditional Afghan Farming Gets Modern Twist

Visiting students learn updated agriculture skills and techniques

Afghan Agriculture Minister Asif Rahimi tours an Indiana farm with members of the Agriculture Development Team that worked closely with him in Afghanistan in 2009.
Afghan Agriculture Minister Asif Rahimi tours an Indiana farm with members of the Agriculture Development Team that worked closely with him in Afghanistan in 2009.

Multimedia

Audio

In Afghanistan, the vast majority of the population relies on agriculture for its livelihood. Three decades of war have not changed the central importance of farming in this country, only its difficulty.

Afghanistan's U.S.-educated Minister of Agriculture is considered one of his country's most innovative and effective administrators. He is working with the United States and international organizations to improve Afghan farming. That effort includes one cooperative program that teaches Afghan students modern agricultural skills.

In classrooms at Purdue University in Indiana, 12 graduate students in agriculture present their research to Afghanistan's Minister of Agriculture, Asif Rahimi, a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The students are part of Purdue's Advancing Afghan Agriculture Alliance, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). One tells the minister his project on breeding fungus-resistant wheat is already making a difference in Afghanistan.

The Alliance program began in 2007 and now includes nearly 90 students at Purdue and a few other U.S. and Indian universities with strong agricultural programs. Purdue's assistant director of International Programs, Kevin McNamara, says everyone involved is focused on enhancing Afghanistan's agrarian society.

Purdue graduate student Mirwais Rahimi, from Herat Province, presents his research findings to Afghanistan's Minister of Agriculture Asif Rahimi (no relation).
Purdue graduate student Mirwais Rahimi, from Herat Province, presents his research findings to Afghanistan's Minister of Agriculture Asif Rahimi (no relation).

"Agriculture is very, very important. Agriculture there is very different from the U.S. In the U.S., agricultural production is about one percent of the economy," he says. "In Afghanistan, it's about one-third. In the U.S., agricultural production employs about two percent of the population. In Afghanistan, it's about 80 percent."

According to McNamara, students in the Alliance program will graduate with skills of great value to Afghanistan's agriculture sector.

"Right now we now have twelve students at Purdue. Four of them are finishing their masters degree programs, and the rest will finish by next May. But these young Afghan faculty members came to Purdue to get Masters degrees so they can go back and teach in the universities they come from. The primary one is Kabul University, but we're also working with faculty at Herat, Nangahar, Balkh and Kandahar. What we're trying to do is get these bright young people out to international schools so they can develop expertise in their disciplinary area."

Thirty years of war have had a terrible effect on Afghanistan's agricultural infrastructure. Rahimi - who was named Minister of Agriculture in 2008 - says improving that base is essential to bringing peace to his country.

"The Afghan government has put significant focus on rebuilding Afghanistan's agriculture, which has during the war been totally destroyed. From 1978 until 2001, every year 3 percent of agricultural production has gone down," says Rahimi. "And because of the drought, half of livestock has perished. So now we are rebuilding. We have some success in both rebuilding Afghanistan's agriculture and rebuilding livestock back."

To continue that success, Rahimi has a long-range modernization plan for his department.

He is relying on a team of young Afghan agricultural officials he has hired. As efforts to redevelop the country continue, many of Afghanistan's best and brightest are recruited by high-paying international organizations. But Rahimi says he manages to hold on to his people with more than good salaries.

"Also providing them incentives, training. Capacity, building all these people, providing them opportunities. Also job satisfaction," he says. "So I'm using not only the salary as one factor, but also at the same time creating an environment where people feel they are part of a transformation, the overall ownership of the ministry. That is where all of us work as a very strong team."

Transforming Afghanistan's agriculture is also complicated work, which Rahimi acknowledges will require the help of the international community. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a $38 million grant to assist his ministry with organization and training. But Rahimi says his team will take the lead in this cooperative venture.

"Follow our footsteps, because we know Afghanistan best," he says. "And provide us technical assistance that you are good at."

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs