Farmers Fight Terror

December 8, 2012 05:47 PM
Farmers Fight Terror

Initiatives in Afghanistan curb Taliban influence

Did you know that the Taliban uses food as a weapon in the war in Afghanistan? That was one observation made by Scott Rottinghaus, an adviser with the Iowa National Guard 734th Agri-Business Development Team (ADT). "In my experience, a lot of Afghans couldn’t feed themselves," he says. "So, they either had to work for the Taliban to earn money to buy food or grow poppies to sell to them [the Taliban]."

The ADT’s goal is to share U.S. agriculture practices with Afghan farmers so they can become more self-sufficient and less beholden to the Taliban, Rottinghaus says.

Rottinghaus was a prime candidate for the role, having grown up on a multigenerational farm near Independence, Iowa. He and fellow Iowa farmer Elliott Henderson, a Ranger-qualified officer with the Iowa Army National Guard’s 133rd Infantry, spoke to attendees at the Farm Journal Corn College in July about their adventures abroad.

Working in areas of eastern Afghanistan that were so isolated created interesting communications challenges. "This area had never heard of America," Henderson says. "When we showed up there, they thought we were Russians. They didn’t know that war had ended 20 years ago."

Rottinghaus and his ADT unit focused on setting up demonstration farms to showcase better management practices. "They’re like farmers anywhere else," he says. "You’ve got the stubborn ones where that’s the way Dad did it and that’s the way I’m going to do it. Then you have the more progressive ones who want to learn how to do it better."

First Soy Processing Plant in Afghanistan

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Could soybeans help promote stability in war-torn Afghanistan? That’s what USDA’s Food for Progress and the American Soybean Association’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health are betting on.

These programs and their partners established Afghanistan’s first commercial soy processing plant. The facility uses Iowa-manufactured processing equipment from Insta-Pro, and U.S. soybeans to augment local production. An Afghan company is supplying the land, building and staff.

"It’s great to see the Afghan and U.S. partners get this soybean processing facility up and operating," says Quintin Gray, minister-counselor with the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service. "It will help Afghanistan agriculture continue to develop."

During the three-year project, the plant will process 200,000 bu. of U.S. soybeans in addition to the Afghan crop. Afghan farmers grew a commercial soybean crop for the first time in 2011. This year, 3,325 Afghan farmers, including 300 women, will plant the crop.

People and livestock will benefit from the Mazar-e Sharif facility, which will make high-protein soy flour, soy meal and crude soybean oil.

You can e-mail Ben Potter at

To learn more about this region of Afghanistan and the soldiers’ work with farmers, go to


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