On January 25, 2011, I arrived in Afghanistan to begin a one-year assignment helping Afghans revitalize thier agricultural sector through a variety of activities aimed to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government, rebuild agricultural markets, and improve management of natural resources. USDA employees like me have worked in Afghanistan since 2003, helping to stabilize the country as it makes strides to become democratic and economically viable nation.
I also served a six-month assignment in Afghanistan during 2004 – 2005, and was drawn back for a second tour for a variety of reasons: the unique nature of the work; complexity of the civilian, military and Afghan participants; intrigue of working in an ongoing conflict environment; and the overall fascination of working with so many interesting people and situations in an historic initiative.
Each day, USDA employees work hard in Afghanistan to help build the country's capacity to increase agricultural productivity, regenerate agribusiness, rehabilitate watersheds and improve irrigation infrastructure. Another key component of our efforts is to help Afghanistan's Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock increase its capacity to deliver services.
One highlight this year has been working on a project to add protein to the local Afghan diet with non-profit organization Nutrition and Education International Foundation and the Army National Guard’s Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team (ADT). Together, we have helped form two soybean cooperatives and supported them in their efforts to grow soybeans and acquire soybean threshing equipment.
We are helping regenerate private business even further by helping a soybean processing facility acquire equipment to further process soybeans from the cooperative into soy meal for human consumption.
USDA Agricultural Experts Donna and David Mull from Georgia played a big role in getting these projects started. The Mulls’ year assignment in Afghanistan ended before the projects could be finished. It has been my pleasure to help secure and disburse the final funds and monitor them to fruition. I know David and Donna would be proud.
Another highlight so far was presenting an award of appreciation on behalf of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to the Kentucky ADT.
As my year in Afghanistan continues, I am also excited to understand how I might support the “transition process.”
The November 2010 Lisbon Conference committed the United States, its NATO partners, and the Afghan government to a process of transition that began this year and culminates in 2014 with the formal transfer of lead security responsibility to Kabul.
Several provinces where I'm serving have begun the transition process. Having such hands-on involvement with this is a career experience I will never forget.
I am very appreciative of the many opportunities USDA has provided me during my 28-year career and especially for the time and experiences I have gained while in Afghanistan. I can think of no other organization in the world where I could have helped serve so many people not only in the United States, but all over the world.
Randy Frescoln is the director of USDA Rural Development's Business Programs in Iowa. He is currently serving a one-year assignment in Afghanistan as a member of USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.
Randy is one of more than 50 USDA employees serving in Afghanistan. The growth of Afghanistan's agricultural sector, which employs more than 80 percent of its workforce, is a key piece of the U.S. government's strategy to stabilize the country.