GARDENING: Seeding drip irrigation knowledge in Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan, was a great deal cleaner than the last time I was there. The roads had been swept free of its layer of sand, and piles of trash scattered along the roads had mostly been shoveled into trucks to be hauled away. Residents still continue to haul their trash to dumpsters in wheelbarrows, some of which is actually placed in the dumpsters while much is simply dumped next to the dumpster even when the dumpster is empty. Obviously, sanitation is still an issue, at least in some parts of this sprawling city where close to 3.5 million people live. As the fifth fastest growing city in the world, sanitation will continue to be a problem, but air quality has greatly improved.
The poor quality air we sometimes have to deal with in the Grand Valley is nothing compared to what some areas of the world experience and even though the air in Kabul has improved since my last visit, many Afghans continue to cover their mouth and nose with blue hospital masks or scarves to protect their lungs and throat. One never knows when a mortar shell, car bomb, rocket-propelled grenade, or dust devil is going to kick up dust, so carrying a scarf or dust mask with you is a common practice. The Pakistanis attending the workshop I was participating in recently, not thinking to bring scarves with them, had raspy throats and were feeling quite lousy by the time the workshop concluded. They obviously were not familiar with dirty air.
The purchase of trees and shrubs by local residents was in full swing on my last visit. During this visit, their horticultural endeavors were obvious with newly planted trees and shrubs throughout the area. Plantations of pines and other trees for reforestation projects were common at the Badam Bagh Research and Demonstration farm in Kabul where I spent hours training the program participants. With help from Mr. Abay Baharte of Jain Irrigation of India, we covered filtration requirements of drip irrigation systems, the clearing of algae and salt deposits from emitters in drip tape using sodium hypochlorite and acid, respectively, and irrigation scheduling based on application rates and soil types. I also provided an overview of the soil and irrigation topics I covered in previous workshops.
The injection of acid into drip irrigation systems is necessary in many parts of the world, not to acidify the soil but to prevent and remove salt deposits in drip emitters. A couple weeks previously, David Harold discussed this process with a group of Pakistani irrigation specialists I was involved with when they toured one of his drip-irrigated fields in Olathe. In the Grand Junction area, Dr. Horst Caspari, viticulturist at the Western Colorado Research Center on Orchard Mesa, injects acid into the drip system irrigating his grape research plots to keep the emitters clean.
The participants in this and previous workshops were staff members of the Ministry of Agriculture, recent graduates of local universities and even university faculty. Many participants function as Extension Agents transferring knowledge to rural farmers. Sadly, due to security issues I was not permitted to visit the countryside as I had when I worked in Pakistan earlier this year. Visits to the Badam Bagh farm were the extent of my journey out of Kabul.
Part of the last day of this and previous workshops was devoted to the participants developing and presenting how they were going to implement the training received. These presentations focused on how they were going to implement on-farm demonstrations and disseminate information to rural farmers that would increase agricultural production and improve food security in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since this was the final workshop of the series, a number of high-powered guests from the U.S. Embassy, USDA, and Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture were in attendance.
Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.
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