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LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - It’s a cool new concept to the people of the tiny Afghan village of Jelga. The village, located in the province of Logar, recently set the stage for agriculture success with some simple cool-storage cellar projects in their village.
The Nevada Agribusiness Development Team project manager, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Shane Jensen, said cool storage is a very simple concept that is inexpensive, easy to maintain and about as difficult to install as digging a large hole in a backyard.
“It’s basically a walk-in cellar that uses the coolness of the Earth to create an atmosphere that will maintain fruits and vegetables longer than other non-cooling, above-ground storage techniques,” said Jensen. “Many villagers use methods that have no cold or cool benefits to maintaining food freshness such as leaving them on a truck or in bins after harvest.
“It can spoil very quickly like that, and that negatively affects the income they receive from the sale,” continued Jensen. “They often have to sell it at lower than market price just to unload it. It also affects their food source during the winter. (Because) … they no longer have any of the food they harvested, they now have to buy food during the winter. More often than not, the food they’re buying is sold to them from an outside source, such as Pakistan, at an astronomically elevated price.”
The NVADT pitched the idea of cool storage to Jelga elders, but they weren’t initially on board with the idea.
“The farmers have never heard of this technique before,” Jensen said. “We had models and diagrams developed for them to see what it would look like, but they still didn’t quite get it until we convinced them to break ground and get one started. Once it started to take shape, they quickly began to love the idea.”
The ability to sustain fruits and vegetables longer is incredibly important to local Afghans farming livelihood. The preserved products such as apples, onions and potatoes will have an immediate effect on them economically, said Jensen.
NVADT’s Logar District Provincial Agriculture Team Director, U.S. Air Force Col. Bartley O’Toole, said cool storage success is as simple as doing the math.
“Now, they would no longer need to sell off their products at a loss,” said O-Toole. “They currently have three cool-storage units. Each holds 40 metric tons of products. If they can live off that each year, they’re saving about $19,000 a year per storage unit.
“(Because) … they’re looking at installing more units, it will mean even more money multiplied in their pockets,” continued O’Toole. “They can sell a lot at local markets, but the biggest savings is if they live off their harvest as opposed to the price they would have had to pay if they bought from outside sources.
“The money they are saving will go right back to them and their village,” said O’Toole. “That’s a huge surge in the local economy they haven’t seen in years.”
A huge side benefit the NVADT sees with economic success with villages like Jelga is security. O’Toole said there are a great number of Taliban members who are not hardcore insurgents and are in it just for the money.
“A great economy will keep a lot of desperate people from joining the insurgency,” said O’Toole. “Creating a more secure Afghanistan through agriculture has been our mission since day one. I think we may … have just found the formula for that. I think the Afghans are on board with it too.”
The Taliban have often been credited across the country with destroying projects created to benefit local Afghans as a way to intimidate people and undermine the elected government. But, Jelga elder Haji Wahidullah said his village is united in establishing the cool-storage projects.
“We didn’t know what cool storage was when we first heard of it, but it’s turning into something we will want to continue to use,” Wahidullah said through an interpreter. “My village is very excited at the prospect of the value these projects will bring.”
Wahidullah said he is encouraged the projects will be safe from anti-government forces.
“This is our village,” said Wahidullah. “We know everyone here. We know when there are outsiders here. We will never let bad people into our village and do harm to any of these projects. We have a lot of police around our village. If we find anyone who wants to do bad things in our village, we will have them arrested immediately.”
Wahidullah said the local Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is very supportive of the projects and is offering everything it can, such as additional security and legal assistance to help with land leases to ensure its success.
“They want to see the projects succeed,” said Wahidullah. “They are very interested in putting cool storage projects through the rest of our district. They think this will bring success everywhere.”
O’Toole said Afghans’ desire for the projects in the village can be measured just by the villagers offering their land for more storage facilities.
“Every time we visit the village, there is someone who has paperwork ready to sign away their land, so they can get cool storage put in on their properties.”
Adding to the success of the projects, O’Toole said they are having villagers from Jelga hired as the labor for the projects.
“Unemployment is really high in these villages,” O’Toole said. “I don’t think the people of Jelga would be as supportive of the cool-storage projects if the contractors we hire were to bring in labor from outside the village. They are very excited to be working on these cool-storage cellars.”
O’Toole said he sees word spreading fast about the benefits of the cool-storage projects.
“The Nevada ADT is working on installing dozens of other storage cellars in other districts,” said O’Toole. “We even have leaders from outside the areas we cover asking how they can get these in their villages.
“Who would have thought that something as simple as putting a cellar in the ground was going to impact the Afghan people so positively?” he continued. “I really think this is going to be a defining project that will help lead to the success of our mission here.”
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