AUGUSTA, Ga. — Today Georgia’s first National Guard Agri-business unit deployed to Afghanistan from Fort Gordon in Augusta.
The 201st Agri-business Development Team has spent a year training to teach Afghans how to improve their crop yield through modern farming techniques.
The team will put what they’ve learned to practice during a year-long tour in Afghanistan.
They will show farmers better ways to irrigate their fields and to store what they grow.
Colonel Bill Williams, who commands the unit, says they want to help the war-torn country regain its status as an agricultural center.
"Because of all the wars they’ve been through they’ve lost a generation of farmers," says Williams. "They used to be world renowned for their pomegranates, so we want to say 'Bring that back, that’s part of your history, that’s part of your culture--you can make a living off of that."
Williams says they also want to offer farmers alternatives to growing poppy flowers, which are used to make heroin.
"We’ve gone and tried to burn their fields and created ill will among the Afghan people so we know that’s not the way to win the hearts and souls of the Afghan people," he he says. "So we’re going to go in there and our philosophy is that agriculture can give them a better life and they can provide a better source of income for their families than poppy."
Williams says he wants to see crops like apples, pomegranates and wheat replace poppies as the country’s main export.
Poppies are one of the biggest sources of funding for the Taliban.