Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Missouri Guard ADT’s Leadership Academy works toward transparent government

By Rachel Knight
Missouri National Guard

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – As the Missouri National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team continues to work with its Afghan hosts on improving the region’s agriculture and business infrastructure they’ve added teaching the importance of transparency in government to the process.

Army Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general, said that because previous Missouri Guard teams have addressed the province’s baseline needs of food and economic security, the current team can build on those foundations through the establishment of the Leadership Academy.

“Economic security is second only to physical security, and the establishment of the academy is proof of the great progress our teams have made since 2007,” Danner said.

“We have transitioned from providing the skills to the Afghan people to teaching those skills. The business and general public administration skills that the Afghan people and their leaders are learning from the academy will greatly improve life in the Nangarhar Province.”

The Leadership Academy will help Afghans through monthly training classes, agriculture extension agent mentoring, cash-for-work projects and training support packages. To make sure that Missourians were meeting the province’s needs, the team worked closely with Safi Mohammed Hussein, the director of agriculture, irrigation and livestock, to identify topics and training.

The cash-for-work project is the most prominent component of the academy, said Col. Michael Fortune, Agribusiness Development Team IV commander. The projects maximize the impact of classroom training by allowing Afghan agents to identify, nominate and manage these small projects that do not cost more than $5,000.

“While the total dollar amount for each project is small, much can be accomplished in a country where the average laborer makes only $3 per day,” said Lt. Col. Raymond Legg, agriculture team chief.

Every new project is a step forward for the region and the academy, Fortune said. The projects are nominated by villagers, reviewed by district governance officials, and approved by Safi.

“The most commonly submitted cash for work projects are irrigation, karize and canal cleaning, and repair,” said Legg. “These projects increase the district’s agriculture capacity by increasing essential water inputs allowing the Afghans to farm previously underutilized farmland.”

Throughout the process, National Guardsmen work closely with the Afghans to teach management and supervisory techniques.

“While the agriculture extension agents are very knowledgeable about the problems of the district, they require mentoring in identifying and planning suitable cash for work projects within the capabilities of villagers to complete,” said Capt. John Paluczak, agriculture section officer in charge.

Each project also comes with a detailed tracking system so that the team can gauge its effectiveness. The system also makes the program as transparent as possible.

“In Afghanistan, relationships are everything,” Paluczak said. “When the agent operates in a transparent manner, the farmers of the district create a long-lasting relationship built upon trust and mutual respect. The perception of openness and transparency establishes the foundation upon which the people perceive the agent and how they are going to treat the agent.”

A more transparent system will also cut down on corruption, Paluczak said.

“The agriculture extension agents need to be seen by farmers and villagers as the most honest, uncorrupt and transparent members of the government,” Fortune stressed during a monthly training class. “Agents are the most visible sign that government is working for the people in rural areas.”

Each project is an opportunity to better the region through increasing its agribusiness capabilities and demonstrating effective, honest government, Paluczak said.

“Agribusiness team members identify key concepts they believe will have a large, long-term impact on Nangarhar agricultural production,” said Paluczak.

“We are currently developing training support packages on small bag silage, composting, drip irrigation, row cropping, experimentation and windbreaks so that agriculture extension agents can spread these basic concepts throughout the community to allow farmers to increase their yields.”

Challenges aren’t limited to the projects themselves. There are major language and literacy gaps that the team must overcome to be successful. For example, the literacy rate in Afghanistan is just over 28 percent.

“Because most Afghan farmers are illiterate, the flip charts consist mostly of pictures with some words,” Palczuk said. “Finally, the booklet tells a story through pictures of how to do what the training support package describes. There are some words, but it is meant to be taken home by the farmers to use as a reference when they implement the new practice.”

All products must also be translated from English to Pashto.

Despite those challenges, the program and the Agribusiness Development Team’s mission have so far been successful, Danner said.

“When we fielded our first Agribusiness Development Team in 2007, we knew we would face some difficult challenges – but we also knew we would overcome them,” Danner said. “Our Afghan partners are committed to progress, and we are proud of our Guardmembers who are on the ground helping them in this time of transition.”

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