Afghanistan goes green


Story and photos by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team public affairs

Panjshir Gov. Keramuddin Keram (left) listens to a presentation about the Panjshir Valley Green Belts Project from Lt. Col. Jeffrey Casada (right), Kentucky National Guard Agri-business Development Team leader with the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team and London, Ky., native, while Jim Hoffman, U.S. department of Agriculture advisor to the Panjshir PRT and Boise, Idaho, native runs the computer slide show. The July 1 presentation proposed a project that would bring 25,000 new trees into the province by the end of the year.

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (July 6, 2010)

— Panjshir Gov. Keramuddin Keram met with the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team July 1 to discuss a project that could potentially bring 35,000 new trees into the province by the end of the year.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Casada, Kentucky National Guard Agri-Business Development Team leader with the Panjshir PRT, and Jim Hoffman, U.S. Department of Agriculture advisor to the Panjshir PRT, presented the governor with a slide show highlighting key elements of the Panjshir Valley Green Belts Project.

The ADT, in a joint venture with the PRT and provincial government line directors, have proposed a large-scale reforestation project. The purpose of the meeting was to bring the plan to the governor’s attention to obtain full consensus, said Hoffman.

“Decades of war have caused deforestation in the Panjshir Valley,” said Hoffman, a Boise, Idaho native. “The loss of the tree cover is causing soil erosion, landslides and destabilization of the sides of the valley. Planting trees and other shrubs helps to stabilize soil and snowpack and will allow for continued normal hydrological functions of the Panjshir River drainage. In turn, it will have positive effects for the people and businesses downstream.”

During his presentation to Keram, Casada, a London, Ky., native, said the project will involve planting 5,000 seedlings in each of the six districts and one municipality. Each district would have two belts of 2,500 trees in each belt.

Panjshir Gov. Keramuddin Keram talks with Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team commander and Abilene, Kan., native, July 1 about a project that could potentially bring 35,000 new trees into the province by the end of the year.

“Our goal is to start in October of this year and finish in November,” said Casada. “We’ll start in Paryan and move south to Shutol.

“We’re proposing hiring 10 day laborers per district for a total of 70 in the province,” continued Casada.

According to the proposal, the Panjshir Director of Agriculture, Irrigation and Land, and his staff, would receive two days of training prior to the arrival of the trees. In addition, the 70 tree planters would receive one day of training. The tools purchased to use in the project will remain in the districts in which they are used.

Five thousand Eco Bags are also part of the proposal. Casada said the Eco Bags are a form of new technology used in agriculture. He said each bag holds 28-30 days of water that slowly drips where the plants or trees need it. If used properly, the bags eliminate the need to water the trees by traditional standards.

Keram had many questions during the presentation. One concern he had was that the right trees would be planted for the right climates of the individual districts. He said, through an interpreter, that projects like this have failed in the past, and he wanted a realistic assessment of the survival rate for the trees.

“Some will not survive the winter,” said Casada. “Our goal is for 70 percent of these trees to live.”

Near the conclusion of the meeting, Casada said, “This project will last 180 days or less. That’s six months to get the trees planted, watered and off to a good start. I’m asking your help to get the letters of support from the districts so we can submit this project.”

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, Panjshir PRT commander and Abilene, Kan., native, told Keram that while it’s important to have his support for the project, it’s also important to have district and village leaders be a part of the plan for it to work in the long term.

“The Panjshir Valley Green Belts Project has many potential benefits,” said Velasquez. “Workers will get training and have jobs while the project is ongoing. Also, as discussed by our agricultural experts, this could reduce flooding and soil erosion, improve irrigation, provide electricity, support fisheries, recharge groundwater, and support forest resources,” said Velasquez.

Following a discussion after the presentation, Keram told the group that the project had his support. He said he would work with the line directors and local leaders to get their support as well. He concluded the meeting on a motivational and humorous note.

“According to this plan, give me a shovel and I’ll get started digging,” said Keram smiling.

“It fits in with many elements of the Provincial Development Plan that deal with water,” said Hoffman. “They’re generated from the Afghan people in their PDP as individual projects, and they’re covered in the larger analysis of Task Force Wolverine and Regional Command-East.”

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