When Larry Temple’s Agribusiness Development Team asked for seed spreaders, he was brought three hand-woven baskets from a nearby village. In a country with prevalent cell phones and Internet, the Afghan farmers had never seen a hand-cranked seed spreader. “It was pretty amazing,” remembered Larry, a recent MBA alum who had traveled to Afghanistan to teach sustainable agricultural practices to farmers developing their recovering agriculture.
Larry spent 10 months as part the Indiana National Guard’s 1-19th Agribusiness Development Team that trained Afghan agricultural agents. Larry and his team were deployed to the Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
While abroad, Larry faced a myriad of challenges as he and his team introduced products so new that the Afghan farmers had never seen them before. In addition to working through communication issues, Larry’s team tried to implement changes and improve farming at the lowest cost possible, creating projects with almost no budgets. To find the right products, Larry and his team had to prepare extensively beforehand.
“We really had to do our homework ahead of time,” explained Larry. To introduce seed spreaders, he and his team gave a few away for free, and let the local farmers test them.
“We basically sampled them, like they would do in supermarkets to generate business,” said Larry. “Except that in Afghanistan, they don’t really have a farm store. Everyone sells everything, so we had to connect with specific people.”
Larry said some of his business skills—marketing, strategy and contracting—strongly influenced his success in Afghanistan.
“There are just so many things to consider,” said Larry. One project his team undertook was controlling a river that disrupted the local agriculture. “We had to undertake a project to slow down the water, and that project had to be contracted out. To do public contracting, you have to pick the best one for the best price and make sure everyone understands. It took a lot of work.”
One of Larry’s favorite stories from Afghanistan was a trip to a gas station, which had a market for men to stop and talk among themselves. When Larry asked locals about their farms, they knew nothing about agriculture—unable to even answer simple questions like whether their farms were irrigated or not. Finally, Larry found one man who seemed to know everything around the village, pointing out to Larry who the real farmers were. “I’m 7,000 miles away, and this man is reminding me of my great-uncle,” said Larry, laughing. “My great-uncle used to sit and talk at gas stations, and that man knew everyone. I guess everybody relates to their elders.”
Larry’s biggest reward from the experience, he said, was just seeing and educated farmers about agriculture, and seeing their minds open up to what his team tried to teach them. “Understanding their culture and communication took time and patience. It took a lot of time over there to understand what would work. It’s hard to replace the experience of being on the ground.”
Today, Larry attends the University of Iowa to pursue his Masters in Agronomy. He hopes to eventually teach agriculture, either locally or abroad.