During World War II, Agriculture Secretary Claude Wickard said, "food will win the war and write the peace.” This old adage is wisely being applied toward the war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Army is sending teams to help train Afghan farmers in the latest agricultural techniques for increasing production of food. In a country where drought is a routine enemy, the farmers are also learning to grow crops that are more drought-resistant. The Nebraska National Guard has supplied grain storage bins in Kapisa Province, according to 1st Lt. Lory Stevens. This is critical so farmers can better preserve the food they are able to grow.
Members of the Task Force Warrior agribusiness development team meet with local farmers July 13 in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province in front of a newly installed grain bin. They visited the farmers to ensure proper assembly of grain bins and to assess agricultural projects. (U.S. Central Command photo)
By introducing alternative crops, farmers will move away from growing the drought-resistant poppy crop that supplies drug traffickers and finances terrorism. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates points out, “Before 30 years of war, Afghanistan…had a strong agricultural sector, and in fact exported…a variety of food.” Gates adds, “but we have to figure out a strategy where they get the money and the seeds and the ability to sustain their families before they get rid of their poppy crop.”
Food is clearly the foundation desperately needed by Afghanistan. The UN World Food Programme reports that nearly a third of the Afghan population is unable to get enough food to live healthy and active lives. Another 8.5 million Afghans live on the edge of this food insecurity. These statistics do not bode well for peace.
Reports of a good wheat harvest this year in Afghanistan are encouraging. A grain reserve may be in development which will guard against drought emergencies in these critical upcoming years of reconstruction. How devastating it would be for Afghanistan to suffer a drought next year, or high food prices, and not have any emergency supplies to help its people.
The international community should ensure that all Afghans have food security. A national school lunch program for all Afghan children should be implemented in the coming year. This could be done by expanding and strengthening existing school feeding being carried out by the UN World Food Programme and World Vision.
Child feeding programs are not expensive for the U.S and its allies to fund, and they may be the most critical elements in building long-term peace. As General Dwight Eisenhower said in 1948, "How can we expect children who are reduced almost to an animal life level of existence – who struggle each day for any kind of food that will keep them alive – how can we expect them in the future to be apostles of peace."
We know from our history that food and agriculture are vital for building peace. The great Marshall Plan which helped rebuild Europe after World War II was built on a foundation of food.
President Truman once remarked on the effect a food aid program had for Europeans prior to the Marshall Plan. Aside from obvious sustenance, the food gave people "a symbol of hope," and this may indeed be the most powerful tool for winning the peace in Afghanistan.