|ADT4 teaches watershed management class|
Story by Sgt. Lori Bilyou
117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (Hawaii)
QALAT, Afghanistan (Dec. 11, 2012) - Watershed management was the topic of the day at the Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock compound in Qalat, Afghanistan, as Dr. Charles Ruffner, a forestry professor at Southern Illinois University, began teaching class, Nov. 19, 2012.
The small high-ceiling classroom, located on the second floor of the main building on the compound, was comfortably arranged. The long floor-length curtains were pulled closed to darken the room for the projector and eight young Afghan men were in attendance.
This was not the first time that Agricultural Development Team 4 and Ruffner, who is a Civilian Expeditionary Workforce agribusiness specialist with ADT4, tried to teach the class. Communication remains difficult in Afghanistan where technology is a challenge and messages are often relayed through translators. This time, however, all the pieces fell into place enabling both presenter and audience to be together for the first time.
The young men in the class were all agricultural extension agents serving as liaisons between the DAIL and local farmers and herdsmen. An Afghan government sponsored program, the DAIL and its agents serve their communities when issues such as crop pests, livestock sickness or irrigation problems arise.
With the slides displayed on the white wall in the front and a translator helping to convey Ruffner’s words to the audience, Ruffner taught the AE agents about the watershed and its impact on agriculture. In a country where an estimated three quarters of the population work in agriculture, the lesson is an important one to learn.
Supplemented with photographs taken throughout Afghanistan, Ruffner explained the delicate balance between vegetation, soil erosion and watershed management.
When one slide showed the destruction of spring flooding and farmers’ fields cut away by torrential waters, a murmur ran through the assembled group. They clearly recognized the effects of poor watershed management. The point of the class was to help the agents to identify and address the conditions that lead to poor watershed management and thereby help mitigate the effects.
“They are cutting down the plants on the hills for fuel, but that causes top soil to wash away,” said Col. Bert Gilmore, former agriculture commander with ADT4. “The more they use the resources, the more they affect the watershed.”
The watershed management class is part of a larger International Security Assistance Forces’ initiative designed to help Afghans manage their natural resources more wisely. As part of the program, the Mississippi ADT4 plans to regularly teach classes at the DIAL compound to help equip agricultural extension agents with key knowledge to take back to the local communities.
While it is only the first class, the ADT4 has high hopes for the success of the program and its potential benefit to agriculture in Zabul province.
“When people can feed themselves, they’re just a step away from the next level,” Gilmore said.
In the classroom, Ruffner used his knowledge of Pashtun culture, steeped in a rich oral tradition, to connect with his audience and make his point clear.
A Pashtun proverb projected on the wall read: It is better to be a servant in the highlands than a king in the lowlands.
The point: It doesn’t help at all to be a king if there is no soil on which to grow your crops and needed water disappears before it reaches you.
It is a point that Ruffner and ADT4 hope will be conveyed throughout the Zabul countryside.
(Cover Photo) Lt. Col. John P. Hardy (left), commander of the Mississippi National Guard Agricultural Development Team 4 in Zabul province, Afghanistan, confers with Maj. Houghton Conley, with the same unit, following a mission to the District Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock center in Qalat, Nov. 14, 2012. The Mississippi ADT4 plans to regularly teach classes at the DAIL compound as part of a larger International Security Assistance Force initiative designed to help Afghans manage their natural resources more wisely. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Lori Bilyou)