Story and photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Snodgrass
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — The Afghan agricultural business community held a forum at the provincial government compound in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, June 23. The forum, the first of its kind to be run by Afghan farmers in Helmand province, gave farmers and investors a chance to meet, form business relationships and discuss opportunities and grievances.
“We’re holding this forum so that the agricultural co-ops, the Provincial Reconstruction Team, U.S. Marines, RC Southwest, and anyone involved with development work in Helmand can get together to discuss how to create an agricultural business infrastructure,” said Lindsay Vandenburg, field manager for Peace Dividend Trust in Helmand province.
Peace Dividend Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to making peace and humanitarian operations more effective, efficient and equitable.
The forum lasted for several hours. Different representatives made their opinions heard, followed by a strategy session with senior representatives from the attending parties.
“The co-op directors introduced new international business opportunities to each other that we had not been able to before,” said Haji Hamidullah, an Afghan farming conglomerate representative. “We hope very much to find more international markets.”
Don Welty, senior advisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Afghanistan and one of several U.S. and British government representatives in attendance, explained that the event has several key objectives, including allowing agricultural business representatives to meet face-toface, discuss business opportunities and meet local government leaders who support these business ventures.
“They are building a foundation of business relationships that will hopefully become successful enterprises,” said Welty. “This is what democracy looks like. People exchanging ideas on how to improve their business and listening to what others have to say.”
At the end of the forum, the co-op representatives left feeling they had made significant accomplishments.
“It was a successful event because it was the beginning,” said Hamidullah. “This is the first time we as Afghan farmers and vendors came together to talk about how we are going to work together for the future.”