Afghanistan benefitting from work with University

By Jon Hansen

University students and faculty are playing a key role in rebuilding Afghanistan’s agriculture economy, said Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States.

According to Ambassador Tayeb Jawad, the University has already lifted up Afghan farmers through training programs, showing their commitment to helping develop crops, markets and agribusiness as Afghanistan emerges from nearly three decades of conflict.

Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador since 2003, sat down with University officials earlier this month to explore new ways to expand the relationship with his nation.

The meeting also included officials from Southern Illinois University, who Jawad also credits with helping rebuild his country’s economy.

Jawad was briefed on a proposal from the two schools made to Afghanistan’s agriculture ministry in April for growing, processing and using soybeans there.

“We will certainly look more seriously into the soybean project,” Jawad told the Associated Press after the meeting.

The University’s College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and Southern Illinois University’s College of Agricultural Sciences developed training programs for Afghan farmers that began in 2003.

Nearly 400 Afghans have attended at least one of the monthlong courses.

But Jawad said that more help is needed to get farmers to think long term. Developing a strong agricultural base makes farming a viable and sustainable option, according to Jawad.

University officials also see a potential benefit to Illinois by helping Afghanistan develop their agriculture economy.

“Very often the first step of development is helping them just feed themselves,” said Robert Easter, dean of the college of Agriculture. “But once they start to grow and develop and have purchasing power, some of the products of Illinois agriculture come within their grasp.”

Late last month, hostility toward Westerners caused rioting in Afghanistan. But Jawad says that most Afghans welcome international investment in his country.

“There is still an important connection between agriculture and civility in Afghanistan,” he said.

Additionally, Afghanistan is currently having trouble convincing farmers from growing illegal opium poppy, which is used to make heroin and finance terrorists.

According to Jawad, many Afghan farmers grow opium because it’s a fast-growing and profitable crop. But, he says, farmers would gladly take less money in return for more security.

“If the only choice is between life and death, they will take the choice of life even if it is illegal,” Jawad said. “But if you have two options, even if they make less money they will take the legal option.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report