By U.S. Army Capt. Pat Birgy, Contracting Officer, Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agri-Business Development Team. The 734th conducts agricultural activities in Kunar province, that expand legal agribusiness, services, markets and ag education to reduce poverty, create jobs and build the capacity of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
One of the things the Iowa Agri-Business Development Team is trying to do here in Kunar Province is help develop markets for agricultural goods. Put another way, we’re trying to find ways to help farmers produce enough goods so that they have some left over to sell. If we succeed in the first goal, then we also need to make sure they have someplace or someone to sell it to.
That’s why we went to the Asadabad bazaar a couple of days ago. We wanted to see where the fruit and vegetable sellers, the bakery shop owners and the butchers were getting their wares from. We also wanted to find out what kind of prices they were charging.
So a small group of us, accompanied by a small security team, took a walk through the Asadabad bazaar. The bazaar was crowded with men, women, cars, animals and children. Many shops were simply stalls in the open air, while others were more traditional storefronts.
We split into two teams and bought a variety of items from different vendors. We bought pomegranates, persimmons, radishes, almonds, cashews, tomatoes, candy, cookies, different breads, baked corn and even a couple of freshly slaughtered chickens. There was an abundance of food, and the merchants we talked to told us business was brisk.
The merchants were also very friendly. One refused to let us pay for some candy we had picked out, and asked us to stay for tea. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit us to do so. While our body armor and military appearance made us stand out in the crowd, we never once felt threatened in any way. In fact, all our interactions with the people of Asadabad were friendly, cordial and respectful.
But the merchants had purchased very little of what they sold from farmers in Kunar province. Most of what they sold originated in Pakistan. So although there’s definitely no food shortage in Asadabad, there is a relatively small amount of locally-grown food items available for purchase.
Part of the reason for this is that the farmers of Kunar are subsistence farmers. What they produce is what they feed their families. But we don’t know exactly how the food marketing system works here. One trip to the market won’t give us all the answers and so we look forward to going back soon and learning more.