In 1945, Lloyd Noble established The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to assist farmers and ranchers with land stewardship. Sixty-five years later, his mission is circling the globe.
For the past year, agricultural consultants from The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation have provided fundamental training to members of the Oklahoma National Guard 2-45th Agribusiness Development Team (ADT). This team was recently deployed to Afghanistan on an 11-month tour to support the region’s farmers and ranchers. By promoting agricultural education, the team hopes the Afghan people will have an economic foundation from which to rebuild stable lives, said Lt. Col. Bruce Arnold.
While the team’s training took them from Texas to New Mexico, their primary agricultural educational resource has been the Noble Foundation’s new Basic AG program. Basic AG is a series of educational events providing practical, foundational knowledge that can be applied to a farmer or rancher’s day-to-day operations. Basic AG events offer straightforward information and interactive experiences to give participants a better understanding of agriculture and new tools to achieve their production goals.
The program was designed to benefit new agricultural producers in the Southern Great Plains, but, for the National Guard team, the information was directly applicable to their mission. “When we found the Noble Foundation, we were shocked to learn about all the educational opportunities that the organization offered,” said Master Sgt. Lorn McKinzie. “The Noble staff is helpful and knowledgeable in their various fields of expertise. We have attended several events and each was exceptional. The hands-on experience and wide variety of information make the training extremely useful.”
The Oklahoma National Guard 2-45th Agribusiness Development Team deployed in August and recently arrived at their undisclosed location in Afghanistan, assuming the responsibilities of another Oklahoma unit, the 1-45th Agribusiness Development Team, who will brief them on the status of the program, upcoming needs and current intelligence so that the new unit can seamlessly continue the effort.
“We do not just go in and create new missions where we feel like it,” said Chief Warrant Officer Three Warren Higginbotham. “The Afghan people tell us what they need and we try to help in every way possible. To be successful, we must implement the programs in ways that make them feel comfortable so that they will accept us and our help.”
The task for the Noble-trained National Guard team is daunting. The language barrier must first be overcome. The team works with a translator to ensure that he understands their mission’s purpose and can translate it effectively to the oftentimes hesitant producers. The village elder must also be contacted and grant consent before the military team can enter a region. “We may be trying to help, but we in no way force that help on anyone who does not want it,” Arnold said. “We pride ourselves on being respectful and approachable.”
Conditions in Afghanistan are also harsh. Perched at an elevation of 8,000 feet, the country is in dire need of energy sources. While the region is currently limited to the use of generators and wood-burning stoves, the team hopes to introduce sustainable sources like solar and wind.
Energy limitations create additional challenges for the agricultural producers, who still grow food without the benefit of modern equipment or technology. Compounding the problem, growing seasons are short, so the window for educating farmers on modern techniques is brief.
The team will focus on the region’s primary agricultural products: fish, beekeeping and orchards, but also hopes to help modernize livestock management practices. One workshop the team attended at the Noble Foundation taught basic livestock handling. “Afghan ranchers may not have nutritional supplements and access to hay as we do here in the United States, but general education and fundamental knowledge will certainly improve the quality of their livestock,” said Robert Wells, Ph.D., livestock consultant, who helped instruct the National Guard team at Basic AG events.
Afghan ag in ruins
Higginbotham explained that agriculture is in ruins because the country has lost generations of farmers to war. By establishing sustainable agricultural practices, he hopes that the team can help reenergize the region while also eroding the attraction to radical regimes.
“If they can sustain themselves through agriculture and can build an economic base, they will not need the Taliban,” he said. “However, they can’t rebuild their country without the necessary support and education. In many ways, our team’s mission parallels the Noble Foundation’s consultation program. We help farmers and ranchers by providing information and support. They progress and grow, and soon they are finding success on their own. It’s a dynamic process.”
For the Noble Foundation consultants who provided training to the National Guard team, the interaction seems a fitting tribute to the organization’s founder. “You look at all the success the Noble Foundation has had in our region and it is amazing to know that success began with one man,” Wells said. “Now his legacy is being carried to the other side of the world to change the lives of those who desperately need it. I believe Lloyd Noble would have been extremely proud.”