U-S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says U-S soldiers, including dozens from Nebraska, have helped build an effort to move Afghan farmers away from growing poppy plants to a more diversified system.
Three Nebraska National Guard units have been sent to Afghanistan in recent years as part of agri-business development teams. Vilsack says Afghan farmers had few options besides poppies, which are used to by drug producers to make opium.
Vilsack says it was a very rational thing for the Afghan farmers, as they got the poppy seeds virtually free and the crop was picked up at the harvest and there were no costs associated with it. He says the military teams had to figure out ways to reduce the perceived risk of growing wheat or other crops.
Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, says the National Guard members have been successful in cutting the production of poppies. He says people began to see there was a much easier and better way to grow “legitimate” crops their families could use, their neighbors could use, and that they could ultimately sell outside of Afghanistan to produce wealth.
He says they showed them financial information that indicated they could get more money if could raise crops like pomegranates, saffron and table grapes. Vilsack says one thing the National Guard teams do is help rebuild the Afghan irrigation system that was destroyed during the war with Russia.
Vilsack says the country has precious resources that have to be used effectively. He says it “isn’t about turning this into an Iowa cornfield, this is really about focusing on what they can do with very limited…natural resources, and very limited technology.”
Nebraska National Guard members came home from a year-long mission in Afghanistan last August. Agri-business development team members were from cities across the state, including: McCook, Lincoln, O’Neill, Imperial and Sidney.