Marines get a lesson in farming practices

FRESNO -- California State University, Fresno, may be a world away from Afghanistan, but it could play a key role in helping to improve the country's war-ravaged agriculture industry.

A team of Marines from the 3rd Civil Affairs Group stationed at Camp Pendleton recently spent a week at CSU, Fresno, getting hands-on training on farming practices, from irrigation to marketing.

The Marines will use their new training to help Afghan farmers who face challenges such as a lack of security, limited resources and pressure from the Taliban to produce poppies for the drug trade.

The goal is not only to help Afghan farmers become more self-sufficient, but also to help provide stability in a very unstable part of the world.

"Agriculture is the mainstay of the Afghan culture, and it's the glue that holds their society together," said 1st Lt. Karl Kadon, who will lead the team of specially trained Marines into Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. "So if we can go in and help people with some of their problems or get them the answers, then that will go a long way toward building trust and rapport between Americans and Afghans."

Bill Erysian, coordinator of international projects for CSU, Fresno's Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, helped develop the Marine training program, which also included professors from CSU campuses in Chico, San Luis Obispo, Pomona and Humboldt.

Erysian said the Marines chose CSU, Fresno, for the training because the region grows some of the same crops as those in Afghanistan, including wheat, pomegranates, raisins and almonds.

Although the Marines are not expected to be farming experts, they are trained to assess a problem quickly and offer a potential solution. Some of those answers likely will come from the experts at CSU, Fresno, and the other CSU agriculture colleges.

Erysian said the Marines will communicate regularly with the colleges through e-mail and video conferencing. "As educators we are anxious to serve and support in any way we can," Erysian said. "And I have a feeling that this project may just be the beginning."

A helpful framework

Kadon agrees. He would like to see the Marines use CSU, Fresno, for future agricultural missions.

"This really was helpful for providing us a framework for what we will be doing in Afghanistan," Kadon said. "We want to be credible."

Ganesan Srinivasan, director of the University Agricultural Laboratory, has traveled to Afghanistan many times and sees great potential in what the Marines are trying to do.

"Afghanistan has been through decades of war," he said. "And now it is time to start sowing the seeds of peace through agriculture."