23, No. 11, Dec. 4, 2003
Project helps people of Afghanistan
Debra Levey Larson
ACES Media Communication Specialist
In one short course developed with help from the UI,
representatives from Afghan ministries and non-governmental
agencies learn post-harvest management and marketing
Training the trainers
is the strategy being used to help Afghanistan get back on its feet.
“A long war, years of drought, Soviet occupation and the Taliban
have all taken a toll on the agriculture and the people of Afghanistan,”
said John Santas, associate director of ACES Global Connect in the College
of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Santas leads a
project to help revitalize Afghanistan funded by the United States Agency
for International Development. USAID selected the UI to take the lead
because of its history in helping to develop an agricultural university
in neighboring Pakistan.
“The educational system in Afghanistan has been virtually shut
down for the past 25 years, leaving a pathetically thin human resource
base,” Santas said. “What professionals are left in places
like Kabul are those who are either elderly or who left when all of
the trouble began and have now returned. Those who stayed and grew up
in the turmoil have little or no formal education.”
Consequently, education became the goal for the first step in the recovery
process. During the past summer, three monthlong courses were taught.
“There were 43 people who attended these short courses from a
number of Afghan ministries and non-governmental organizations,”
Santas said. The courses were offered just across the border at the
Northwest Frontier Province Agricultural University in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Although these short courses are being offered at a university, Santas
said, “They are not high-level courses; they are hands-on, how-to
How did they know what courses to offer? The process began by setting
up a field office at the university in Peshawar under the direction
of Abdul Qayyum Khan.
“We were fortunate to get Khan on the project because he was involved
in our efforts in the early ’90s,” Santas said. Khan did
a preliminary needs assessment on what courses to offer and coordinated
the many details such as advertising the courses and making lodging
and transportation arrangements for participants.
“We can’t do that from Illinois. We really needed someone
there, in Pakistan, to organize the program,” Santas said.
The first year of the project was deemed to be so successful that four
more years have been authorized. Santas and Oval Myers Jr., professor
emeritus of plant breeding and genetics from Southern Illinois University
at Carbondale, traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in October to do
some long-term planning. They met with representatives from Afghan agencies
that are trying to rebuild the country in order to determine what kinds
of agricultural information they needed and what courses will be offered
“The climate in that part of the world is similar to that of California,
so we are in a good position to be able to train them in successful
agricultural practices,” Santas said. “And the similarities
of the climate, agriculture and customs of Pakistan and Afghanistan
make this arrangement work.”
Plans are under way for several more short courses to be taught at the
university in Pakistan as well as at a university in the recovering
Afghan city of Kabul.
A joint UI-SIU team worked with USAID to upgrade and expand the Northwest
Frontier Province Agricultural University in Pakistan from 1984 to 1994.
The team included Santas and Myers as well as other faculty members
from the UI and SIU. Although Myers is now retired, he remains a senior
adviser on the project.
The efforts to expand the university in Pakistan used the land-grant
model. There are outreach personnel similar to UI Extension and 12 research
stations, including a sheep research station and one doing research
on sugar crops.
According to Santas, some of the participants from the Afghan short
courses will apply to the university in Pakistan to enroll in degree
programs. “This is important to the sustainability of our development
efforts,” Santas said. “We don’t want to just keep
offering short courses. We will use a variety of training approaches.”
“It’s a great humanitarian effort as well as an opportunity
to share,” Santas said.