Members of the California National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division will spend four days at Cal Poly Pomona learning agricultural skills that they will take to Afghanistan on an upcoming mission.
The 18 soldiers, members of the Agricultural Development Team based in Los Alamitos, are part of an Army counterinsurgency effort to diminish the Taliban’s influence and reduce opium poppy production by showing Afghan farmers how to grow crops and raise animals more efficiently and achieve higher yields.
"Afghanistan used to be a net export country but now imports most of its food," said Capt. Danjel (cq) Bout. "Our focus is on growing the infrastructure – physical and intellectual – that will afford farmers economic independence."
Cal Poly Pomona professors Jon Phillips, Nancy Merlino and Rick Mathias are coordinating the training, which will run from Aug 3-6 in the Agriscapes classroom and the university’s animal pastures.
The training will cover much more than what to grow and how to grow it, Phillips said. The cultural context is crucial, as is an understanding of Afghanistan’s resources and infrastructure. "You can’t just give people tractors and expect them to use them if all they’ve ever known are horses," Phillips said.
"Because economically prosperous countries tend to be more stable, it’s important for us to help develop the Afghan economy," Phillips added. "About 60% of the labor force in Afghanistan is involved in agriculture, so that’s where opportunities for economic development will be."
Training will include information about crops, irrigation, transportation, animals, infrastructure, storage – the many facets that yield a successful agricultural economy. In addition to receiving four days of classroom and hands-on instruction, the soldiers will have a "reach-back relationship" with the university, in which they can communicate with Cal Poly Pomona faculty via e-mail or perhaps video conference while serving in Afghanistan.
Other universities, including Purdue, have trained Afghanistan-bound soldiers in farming techniques, but Cal Poly Pomona is the first in California to do so.
"Cal Poly Pomona is a world-class agricultural education institution that has experience in the critical support fields the team will focus on," Bout said. Additionally, the campus is located close to both Los Alamitos and West Los Angeles, where the Agricultural Development Team is headquartered