Indiana National Guard to Help Afghan Farmers
New Guard unit will try to nudge farmers to crops other than opium poppies
By Eric Berman
64 Indiana National Guard members head for Afghanistan in December to help Afghan farmers grow something instead of opium poppies.
Afghanistan's poppy fields are a cornerstone of both the country's economy and the international drug trade. Indiana is one of five states assembling Guard units with agricultural experience to help wean farmers off poppies and help them find alternatives.
"Going in there and eradicating poppies (means) they can't feed their families, and we create an enemy while we're trying to create a friend," says Indiana Adjutant General Martin Umbarger.
Instead, he says, "agribusiness development teams" from Indiana, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee and Missouri will assist farmers with tasks from soil science to pest management.
Umbarger says Afghanistan had productive farms until the Soviet invasion nearly 30 years ago. He says the Indiana team will stay for a year, then give way to a fresh group of Indiana Guard members.
The Indiana troops will be stationed in Khost province, just across the border from Pakistan. 35 of the 64 troops will be in charge of security for the rest of the unit.