“In Afghanistan, they grow a number of small mixed melons, like cantaloupes and Christmas melons. They used to export melons and had a commercial market to do that prior to the prolonged political wars there,” says Clemson horticulturist Gilbert Miller.

Miller was among a team of Clemson Extension workers who trained the team of National Guard agriculturists who are now in Afghanistan. The potential for this type gravity driven irrigation is viable for fruit production there, Miller adds.

Twelve members of the 64-person unit from the South Carolina Army National Guard received agriculture training prior to deployment. The 12-member agriculture team is officially titled, Afghanistan Agribusiness Development Team.                                       The U.S. military recognized the need for such teams in late 2007. Across Afghanistan, Agriculture Development Teams from more than a dozen states, including Indiana, Tennessee and Texas, have helped Afghan farmers with their agricultural endeavors.

Lt. Col. Frank Rice, a 1987 Clemson agriculture economics graduate and 27-year guardsman, said soldiers are uniquely qualified for this mission because they are farmers and agents at home. The unit hopes to help the Afghans stabilize and increase the economic impact of agriculture in their country. 

The guard’s role will be to use what the Afghan farmers have and develop the country’s agribusiness into a more productive industry. “Eighty percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product comes from agriculture,” Rice said. “We want to help them with sustainable practices they can continue when we leave.”

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com