It might sound odd to send veterinarians, agronomists and horticulture experts to war, but if the goal is to turn swords into ploughshares, a newly formed Wisconsin National Guard unit will help farmers in Afghanistan improve the health of their livestock and boost crop yields.
Although it may sound easy to export Wisconsin know-how to a poor, war-torn country like Afghanistan, where 80% of its citizens work in agriculture, it’s not a simple matter. There are language barriers, dangers and cultural differences. And much of the technology and improved farming practices that are common in the United States are unknown in Afghanistan.
At one time Afghanistan’s agrarian economy flourished – much of the country’s raisin crop was exported to Europe and the United States, along with other produce – but decades of war and occupation by the Russians and Taliban have turned it into one of the poorest in the world.
Six years after the U.S. military arrived in Afghanistan, the first National Guard agribusiness development team – from Missouri – was sent to help Afghan farmers. Now it’s Wisconsin’s turn to assemble a team of agriculture experts from its National Guard ranks.
“The whole idea is to have local contractors develop and do the projects; we’re there in a support role to provide the expertise and management,” said Col. Darrel Feucht, who will command the 58-member team of Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard members.