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Cultivating Afghanistan: Finding Food for Animal Husbandry

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In this land of extreme poverty, farm animals are relatively few. Indiana National Guard Agribusiness Development Team Deputy Commander Col. Cindra Chastain said though often malnourished and diseased, the animals are valuable assets in the subsistence rural economy.

“Just like agriculture in general, we want to improve the farmers’ livestock producing abilities and that means having healthier livestock,” Chastain said. “And having livestock that lives and is well-fed. Most of our job is going to be teaching.”

The ADT programs to improve the health of ruminants, such as goats and cows, include offering inoculations and better veterinarian care. The work includes some ADT hands-on vet care, as well.

The ADT is also developing a nutritional supplement for ruminants that utilizes an abundant local fruit.

“In the United States we use molasses, but here we’re trying to use mulberries to make a block to provide supplemental energy for ruminants,” said Cpt. Bob Cline.

The Afghan enthusiasm for embellishment, as demonstrated in the elaborately painted “jingle trucks” that trundle goods across the country, also extends to their domesticated animals. Livestock markets are full of painted “jingle cows” and “jingle goats,” including a popular motif of orange polka-dots. Even chickens are painted.

The ADT also plans beekeeping and poultry programs. Col. Chastain says one micro-business program hopes to encourage a particularly impoverished women’s group to raise poultry.

“But it’s very hard to encourage women’s businesses here,” Chastain said.  “It’s more acceptable for women to work who don’t have any other source of income. So we’re going to try it that way. But it’s tough to work with women. In fact, I’ve not spoken to any Afghan farmer’s wives yet. They all hide when you’re there.”

And then there is the tragic tale of Mustang Sally, the ADT’s pet chicken. Purchased in the Khost City livestock market, Mustang Sally was one pampered chicken, groomed and plump and even walked on a leash. Sally would sometimes perch on her favorites’ shoulders. One morning when the soldiers went to check on Mustang Sally, they discovered she’d fallen prey to a particular Afghan menace: a jackal. It was a sad burial. The soldiers still insist it was a Taliban jackal.

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