COLUMBIA — There isn’t much orange in U.S. Army fatigues, but Clemson University is leaving its mark in Afghanistan.

For the first time, a unit of the S.C. Army National Guard has deployed to the southwest Asia country with agriculture agents trained by Clemson extension and Public Service Activities.

Twelve of the 64 members in the unit were trained during the summer to help Afghan farmers with agricultural techniques as part of the guard’s Afghanistan Agribusiness Development Team.

The unit has deployed to Afghanistan for about a year. For security reasons, the unit’s location was not disclosed.

The unit received extensive cultural and language training by an Afghan native at the McCrady Training Center, the S.C. National Guard’s training center at Fort Jackson. The agriculture agents, who will conduct similar roles to that of Clemson extension agents, received specialist training on the main campus from Clemson faculty.

They will provide information to Afghan farmers similar to that provided by Clemson extension agents to South Carolina farmers.

For Clemson’s Mac Horton, director of the Sandhill Research and Education Center in Columbia who coordinated the National Guard training with Clemson, the unit’s deployment is “just another extension mission,” except this time the agents are traveling across oceans to another continent.

“When someone says they need Clemson’s help with an agriculture issue, it’s our obligation to help,” Horton said.

The U.S. military recognized the need for such teams in late 2007. Across Afghanistan, Agriculture Development Teams from more than a dozen states, including Indiana, Tennessee and Texas, have helped Afghan farmers with their agricultural endeavors.

Instructor Sayed Shah Pacha said that many native Afghan farmers use hand tools and mules to cultivate their land in a country where only about 15 percent of the soil is suitable for farming. They face challenges such as mountainous terrain, lack of adequate feedstock and an often-sparse water supply.

Nevertheless, the country’s farmers are able to harvest wheat, barley, corn, rice and cotton. Fruits and nuts are leading Afghan exports, including raisins, apricots, cherries, figs and pomegranates.

Lt. Col. Frank Rice, a 1987 Clemson agriculture economics graduate and 27-year guardsman, said soldiers are uniquely qualified for this mission because they are farmers and agents at home. The unit hopes to help the Afghans stabilize and increase the economic impact of agriculture in their country. 

The guard’s role will be to use what the Afghan farmers have and develop the country’s agribusiness into a more productive industry.

“Eighty percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product comes from agriculture,” Rice said. “We want to help them with sustainable practices they can continue when we leave.”

The guard’s on-campus training included classes on soil science and crop production, food microbiology and preservation, livestock management and extension program development. 

Equally detailed language and culture classes at Fort Jackson included lessons on the socio-economic makeup of Afghanistan, cultural dos and don’ts and familiarization with Pashto, one of two official languages spoken in Afghanistan.

The class learned phrases that included basic greetings and commands, military ranks, numbers, the Pashto alphabet and colors.

And Pashto for orange? Naarenjee.

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