From the Ground Up

April 29, 2011 08:09 PM
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The delegation, including Kip Tom, spent time distributing bags of wheat to Afghan schoolgirls. The grain was donated by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation via the World Food Programme.
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Indiana farmer Kip Tom has planted thousands of acres, but this was his first with an oxen team. The field was being readied for the next potato crop.
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These 18-hp tractors, which replace oxen, are part of the first steps to mechanize agriculture.
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In Herat, Howard G. Buffett explained how center-pivot irrigation works. As a result of the conversation, he donated a pivot to help farmers in the area use the technology for double-cropping.
Photos: Lou Pierce and Eric Crowley

Delegation sees Afghan and Iraqi agriculture up close

What most of us know about Afghanistan we learn from the mainstream news. We hear about a land torn by war where women are devalued and success is startlingly hard to come by.

Heartache and strife dominate most of the headlines, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to tell. A delegation that included members of the Farm Journal Foundation board recently traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq and brought home firsthand accounts that go beyond headline news.

Traveling under the auspice of the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), the delegation spent 10 days going where visitors rarely go in Afghanistan and Iraq—into the hinterlands and farm country. What they found were inspiring stories of success and progress rising from the ground up.

"We saw firsthand how relatively small efforts can make a powerful difference in everyday lives," says Andy Weber, chairman of the Farm Journal Foundation. "Traveling from Afghanistan to Kurdistan, the northern region of Iraq, provided an incredible before-and-after comparison and showed just what can be accomplished with grassroots agricultural development efforts."

Thanks to the efforts of TFBSO’s Howard W. Buffett, who organized the once-in-a-lifetime trip, the group observed areas making huge strides in relieving food insecurity and returning to normalcy. Traveling with the group in addition to Buffett and Weber were Kip Tom, a Warsaw, Ind., farmer and Farm Journal Foundation board member; Buffett’s father, Howard G. Buffett; and a professional video crew.

The trip was especially rewarding for the elder Buffett, an Illinois farmer, philanthropist and son of the famous Warren Buffett. It was an opportunity to see the results of his generosity through the Howard G. Buffett Foundation (HGBF).

Working in the countryside in a little room made of dirt, rock and gravel, the group spent time bagging 20-lb. sacks of wheat donated by HGBF as part of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Red Cup campaign. Young schoolgirls, about 10 years old, lugged the enormous bags home to help feed their families.

"The Red Cup program is one of the two principal charities that Farmers Feeding the World is supporting, so it was great to see the results in action," Tom says.

Red Cup is just one of four programs that HGBF sponsors with WFP on that day’s tour, which focused on engaging and elevating girls and women to a higher level in society.

"It was encouraging to see how things are changing," says the elder Buffett. "While there is still lots of anxiety and poverty, you can see change happening. Women are working their own fields, and farmers as a whole are making strides."

Buffett, who has traveled to 103 countries, brought a remarkable global perspective to the group. The delegation often felt at home in the farming communities but were unnerved at other times. While they never traveled in high-danger areas, driving in a convoy of armor-plated SUVs through the crowded city streets of Kabul or flying over the Himalayas in a Black Hawk helicopter still gave reason for pause.

"That’s what it takes to see what’s really happening," Buffett says. "What we saw was the importance the U.S. farmer can make in global food assistance—by farmers helping farmers."

That’s a perspective shared by his namesake son. "A hand up rather than a hand out can make a profound difference," says the younger Buffett. "A small amount of money and a bit of risk is bringing positive change to the war-torn countryside."

More Coverage

See compelling photos and video and learn more about how farmers are playing a role in rebuilding Afghanistan by tuning into upcoming episodes of "AgDay" and "U.S. Farm Report," visiting or likingFarmers Feeding the World on Facebook. For a one-stop collection of coverage, go to the Farmers Feeding The World website.



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