U.S. Government Agriculture Sector Programs in Afghanistan and Upcoming Travel to the Region
We have travel planned for these gentlemen in terms of heading to the region in the very near future, but we thought it was a good time to talk a little bit about where we are and the civilian component of the strategy that the President announced last month, and in particular, the centrality or the core aspect of helping to rebuild the agricultural sector of the Afghan economy.
So we’ll start this with Secretary Vilsack and – who represents, really, the whole-of-government approach to our strategy as the Secretary and the President have emphasized, and then Raj Shah will come in and talk a little bit about the AID component of this, and then Richard – I know we’re trying to squeeze in this briefing before the President speaks – but will just kind of put this in the broader perspective of our strategy.
Gentlemen, thank you for coming.
SECRETARY VILSACK: Thanks very much. I appreciate the opportunity to be here with Administrator Shah and Ambassador Holbrooke. I think it’s fair to say that agriculture is the top non-security priority for the United States Government in Afghanistan, and I’m looking forward to traveling to Afghanistan to visit with officials from the Afghan Government. Eighty percent of Afghans earn their income from agriculture. Thirty-five percent of the Afghan GDP comes from agriculture. Fifty percent of their arable land is currently under cultivation. So there is a tremendous opportunity not just in the growing of wheat, but also in horticultural crops for this economy to be strengthened, and for greater stability to be created as a result of a stronger agricultural presence.
We see the focus on agriculture achieving four specific goals. First, it’s obviously going to create a stronger rural economy in Afghanistan and create jobs for the unemployed. Currently in rural Afghanistan, the unemployment rate can be as high as 40 percent. We think it will increase confidence in the national government to be able to deliver key services. We believe by increasing agricultural productivity income, we will reduce poverty in that country, and we also believe we’ll respond to the needs of food security that the country currently has.
Two basic principles that we will operate under in the trip – this effort has to be Afghan-led and it has to be a whole-of-government approach, which is one of the reasons why Raj Shah’s presence here today is so appreciated. We will align our assistance and our help with the agricultural framework that has been recently announced by the Afghan Government. We look forward to helping increase agricultural productivity, regenerate an agri-business economy, rehabilitate natural resources with particular emphasis on watersheds and irrigation systems, and we hope to be able to assist the Afghan Government in their new change management effort to build capacity.
This obviously will result, in our view, in stabilizing the country, making opportunities outside of illicit activity more meaningful, and greater availability. We hope to look forward to working with experts not just in the USDA and USAID, but also land grant universities as well as some of our foreign partners to facilitate targeted investments in farming, increased productivity with new seed technologies, expansion of markets, building of the appropriate infrastructure – all of that certainly important for this trip. And we look forward to making a difference in Afghanistan. We appreciate the Ambassador’s confidence in our ability to get this job done, and we look forward to working in partnership with Raj Shah and USAID on the development side.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you. Well, thank you, Secretary Vilsack, and I appreciate the chance to be here and speak with you. I am in this job very new. I was sworn in earlier this morning. And I had the opportunity at that swearing-in – and I appreciate the fact that Secretary Vilsack was able to be there – I had the opportunity to talk about some of the principles that we hope will define USAID and the way we do our development work going forward.
Two of the most important principles are engaging our work in deep partnership – partnership with countries, partnerships where countries have stood up and offered leadership and made political commitments to a sector like agriculture that then allow us to come in and provide support so that those plans are locally owned, those programs are implemented by local capacity, and in doing this work together, we build a strong and sustainable agricultural sector that will help power a new economy for Afghanistan.
A second principle is results, and we’ll be very focused on identifying what are the quantitative goals in each of the four areas the Secretary outlined so that we know what our targets are for agricultural productivity, we know which crop value chains we’ll focus on for export-oriented agri-business development, and hopefully that links back to job creation and employment and some of the sources of economic stability for rural Afghanistan.
This is a wonderful example of those two principles. USAID is proud to work with USDA and pleased to support Secretary Vilsack’s important visit. Agriculture is the most important non-security sector in Afghanistan for all of the reasons the secretary highlighted. And this serves as an example of how we are working together. We have co-located our staff in Afghanistan. We have an aligned strategic approach where we’ve worked together to develop a common strategy with the government and with the ministry of agriculture and irrigation and livestock. And we have a joint framework for assessing results and ensuring accountability as we spend precious U.S. tax dollars on this goal.
So I’ll just conclude with a brief comment on the vision of success. The vision of success is to have a vibrant and diverse agricultural economy, a more productive agricultural sector, opportunities for small farmers in particular – in Afghanistan, the average farm size is quite small; one hectare, two hectares – opportunities for those farmers to engage in higher-value production so they have sources of income and wealth and can begin to rebuild their economies and their communities.
And this is a unique situation where Secretary Vilsack’s commitment to food security and the deep expertise that USDA brings is very important for achieving a development objective, and we’re proud to be working in partnership with the secretary. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I want to thank Secretary Vilsack for adding this difficult trip to his busy schedule. The origins of this trip lie in the significant revision of the Administration’s policies towards Afghanistan in the last eleven and a half months. When we took office, we did a full soup-to-nuts, A-to-Z reevaluation of programs. Public attention was focused on security issues. But as you know, the President and the Secretary of State asked me to focus on the civilian issues.
And as we focused on them, we came to some pretty obvious conclusions. Why were we spending more money on poppy eradication than we were on supporting agriculture? Why weren’t we working on helping Afghanistan restore its once vibrant agricultural export markets, and in the same time, doing great damage to the Taliban’s recruiting base.
The two agencies which first contributed staff to our interagency effort were AID and USDA. And representatives of that (inaudible) and Otto Gonzalez are here now, but there are other AID people who are currently in the field with the great agricultural development economist John Mellor doing an additional study for us.
Secretary Clinton, President Obama in the review process endorsed the idea that agriculture would be our number one non-security priority for all the reasons that you’ve just heard. And this trip, which was previewed by Secretary Clinton in the trilateral summit in May, took a long time to plan. It’s very beneficial that it takes place after the political situation has settled down in Kabul. We’re very grateful to Tom Vilsack, my friend, our Secretary of Agriculture, for doing it. And we’re thrilled that this press conference takes place only hours after Rajiv Shah takes office as AID Administrator.
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take questions. For the benefit of our new Administrator and guest, identify yourself and your organization.
QUESTION: Sue Pleming with Reuters, just two questions. Firstly, what’s happened with the trade transit agreement, which is between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is key to moving those high-value products to India? And secondly, how much success have you had in convincing farmers to switch from opium to either wheat or high-value products?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On the first question, the trade transit agreement, which has been under negotiation for 44 years – longer than some of you have been alive, including our new AID Administrator – (laughter) – well, that’s true, isn’t it, Raj?
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: That is, that is.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: It started in 1965, this negotiation. We are down to about two remaining issues. Mary Beth Goodman, who’s – many of you know, is working on this very actively. Secretary Clinton and I talked about it this morning. We are in touch with the governments in Islamabad and Pakistan.
You’re quite right about the agricultural components here. And it was rather interesting to us that about three weeks ago, with great fanfare in Afghanistan, the ministry of agriculture air-shipped 12 tons of apples to India – Afghanistan being famous for its apples. And that was a very interesting harbinger of what’s possible.
Your second question was about crop substitution. We phased out our support of poppy crop eradication, although individual governors of Afghanistan may continue to do it. The idea that we would spend money to victimize farmers who are growing the best cash crop for them in the area, instead of – it was only alienating them, driving them into the hands of the Taliban. We know from much information we’ve received that we hurt the Taliban recruiting, and we didn’t – by doing this – and we did not hurt ourselves at all because it was accompanied an integrated plan with General McChrystal and General Petraeus to focus on interdiction and drug bazaars. And some of you may have seen the CNN pieces on the explosions, the drug paraphernalia. We are – heavily focused interagency effort to go after the traffickers, the big drug lords – two of whom are about to stand trial, I think, in the U.S. So we are satisfied that we’re on the right track.
This isn’t without controversy. And we interviewed a lot of people in this, but I’m glad to say the head of the United Nations drug organization, Antonio Costa*, called it a correct and courageous move. And we look forward to Secretary Vilsack’s impressions when he returns on this very critical issue.
QUESTION: So you said it’s down to two issues. What are the two issues?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’d rather --
QUESTION: I mean, two – they could be big issues. They could take years.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: One --
QUESTION: Another 13.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Not 44 years. They are – one is a technical issue, and the other one is a complicated issue. And it’s just better to let it go until it works itself out. And I don’t want to predict a date certain for conclusion, but we are working very hard on it.
QUESTION: Because – but it was meant to December, according to the document – initial.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And that was – yes, you’re quite right. And the reason that we didn’t meet our December 31st deadline is self-evident. The Government in Afghanistan was changing, and key personnel who are doing the negotiation were given new mandates at exactly that time. So we all recognized that and, more or less, stopped the clock.
SECRETARY VILSACK: So, one comment about your wheat question: A compelling case be made, based on the history of Afghanistan, that it can, in fact, be again the breadbasket of that area. But also a compelling market case can be made based on statistics. Roughly $2,500 per hectare is generated from the sale of poppies. But if that same hectare was put in table grapes, it could be as much $18,000. If it’s put in apples, it could be somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 to $4,000 per hectare.
So part of our challenge is to not only educate farmers about those opportunities, but also create the credit and the transportation infrastructure that allows them to take full advantage of those markets. But we can make the case that these markets are far more beneficial for them.
QUESTION: Alan Bjerga from Bloomberg News. Yesterday, the Administration said that it was going to be increasing civilian presence in Afghanistan. I’m wondering, from a USDA and USAID standpoint, how many more boots on the ground do you expect to be putting down?
SECRETARY VILSACK: We currently have 54 people in country and another 10 are on their way. And we’ll have an opportunity after this visit not only to thank those workers, but also to evaluate what additional assistance may be necessary. It isn’t just necessarily government boots on the ground; it’s also ways in which we can partner with the many land grant universities and other universities that are providing assistance and help, as well as working with USAID.
So we’re going to have a significant presence. I suspect and know that over the short time, all it’s going to increase. And I also know that there’s already significant work being done, from planting additional trees, up to 3 million additional trees in a forestation effort, to building storage facilities, to improving productivity, there’s good work being done.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you. I think from USAID’s perspective, the way we try to think about presence, civilian presence on the ground is really around – is a whole-of-government approach, and as you perhaps know, there – we expect to have approximately a thousand civilians on the ground across the government. There are – for us, an important concept is what kind of impact you’re getting and what those people are able to do. And by working with local partners and by focusing on building local capacity in the execution of these programs in agriculture and other sectors, we believe that each one of those individuals leverages themselves perhaps ten-fold with local Afghan capacity and support. So –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I want to just clarify something that Raj said on the thousand. We are just building out to the projected numbers that the President approved in the spring of last year, and that is just short of a thousand. But we have all agreed that concomitant with the additional troops will be additional civilians. Jack Lew, Raj and I and other members of the government are looking now at the exact numbers. There have been some numbers used in the press which are not inaccurate, so – and I want to say this particularly because one prominent newspaper wrote an editorial saying we had capped our civilians at a thousand, and that is simply not true.
QUESTION: As important as development is to the region, and it clearly is, I think everybody right now is worried about pretty much what the President’s going to talk about in a minute, about the security situation. Ambassador Holbrooke, how much pressure are you willing to put on folks in the region, especially on Pakistan, to address the security issues that we all know and have a long history?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Let me duck that because I just answered those questions at Brookings. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But you didn’t answer those questions at Brookings. You ducked them there as well. (Laughter.)
AMBASSDOR HOLBROOKE: And I’ll duck them again. But this is a press – this is a unique collection on this podium designed to talk about the issue that we believe is critically important, long-term, to security, and there’s a clear correlation between Secretary Vilsack’s trip and American security interests. You always write about the underlying causes. Here’s an example of a whole-of-government activity which addresses the underlying issues.
And there’s one more point that Tom and Raj did not make. We are working very closely with General McChrystal and his team, and Secretary Vilsack will see them. They have – spending a lot of money on agriculture out of the CERP funds. There are five agricultural development teams – National Guard from Nebraska and Texas and California and Missouri and one other state that slips my mind right now – and so that is directly related to security. But your question is for another time, and if you’ll accept that.
MR. CROWLEY: Elise.
QUESTION: Elise Labott with CNN. Thank you and welcome, Administrator Shah.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you could talk about the regional countries and the neighbors in terms of how you’re going to help Afghanistan position itself as possibly an exporter. I understand that in Pakistan, for instance, because there’s no refrigeration in Afghanistan, they sell it to Pakistan, Pakistan refrigerates it and then sells it back to Afghanistan, for instance, at a greater price. And so how are you going to – are you going to put pressure on other countries to try and help Afghanistan develop as an exporter of agricultural products? Or any of you. I mean –
SECRETARY VILSACK: Well, let me start by saying that we’ve had an opportunity to meet with both the Afghan and Pakistani ag ministers in a trilateral effort to identify common issues and common problems, reducing border disputes so the free flow of goods can be made more easily. We’re making progress on trade agreements and things of that nature, so there is a process and a structure, at least as it relates to the agricultural piece of this, for us to work through whatever issues might separate the two countries. And I think there is a real desire on the part of both ag ministers to be cooperative, and I think what our job is is to help facilitate that to show an interest, which is one of the reasons why I’m traveling to Afghanistan, is to show that interest.
QUESTION: If I could just quickly follow up, but – I mean, I understand the kind of trade issues or those kind of things, but do you think that there’s a desire on the part of the neighbors to kind of help? You know, there’s always so much talk about Afghanistan needs to get its security situation together, but here is an example of how they could help do that in a way that has nothing to do with security, but by helping it kind of as a market or things like that. Do you see that in the near future?
SECRETARY VILSACK: Well, I think it’s in everyone’s security interest that we promote agriculture in Afghanistan, and that we make it grow and that we make it prosper. And the same thing, frankly, is also true for the challenges that the Pakistani agriculture has. I mean, there are serious issues with water, serious issues with irrigation that have to be discussed involving both countries. And again, the trilateral process allows us to have those conversations, those frank conversations, that lead to better results.
And I will tell you, the ag minister, Minister Rahimi, in Afghanistan is very well respected and very well thought of by our country, by the Afghan Government and by the Pakistani Government. He is – he has the right framework, he has the right approach, and I think he brings credibility to this effort.
MR. CROWLEY: Raj, you want to --
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, I was just going to add one thought, which is in addition to the public sector component, there is the private sector component, and there are a number of activities to help develop private business – supply chains, build out coal train systems, but to do that within the kind of sustainable economics the Secretary talked about, and so that’s an important part of answering your question in terms of how does Afghanistan develop its own capacities to have real agricultural value chance.
QUESTION: Charlie Wolfson with CBS. Within the breakout of the money pot for Afghanistan, how much is going into the agriculture sector?
SECRETARY VILSACK: The 2009 number was roughly three hundred million. I can’t give you a specific number on 2010, but I think it’s safe to say that it will be an increase over that amount.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And that doesn’t count the military expenditures – Charlie, that doesn’t include the CERP funds, the agricultural development teams of the military. All of you who have talked to McChrystal or Rodriguez and General Nicholson all know that they share this priority.
QUESTION: Ken Dilanian from USA Today. I have a question about the security situation for civilians, U.S. civilians in Afghanistan. To what extent are they able to get out of their compounds and meet with Afghans and go into villages? And when they do, who protects them? Is it the U.S. military or is it private contractors? And to what extent is security impeding any of these efforts?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Ken, that’s a real issue. There’s just no denying it. And any of you who have been out there understand it. There are – first of all, civilians serving there are extraordinarily brave and – because they are not in the same secured environment as our military colleagues. And you saw a tragic although unique example of that with our CIA colleagues in Khost in the last few days.
Secondly, they have to get out to do their work. They have to get outside the wire. And when you go down to a place like Helmand and see someone like Rory Calhoun, who’s been there three years, who knows the area – an AID worker who knows the area better than any of the American military and is committed and takes enormous risks, you see that.
Now, what are we doing specifically to deal with it? There is a constant province-by-province negotiation on how much support the military will give American civilians from AID, USDA, and other agencies as they move around. And that depends on the provinces. If you’re in Mazar-i-Sharif, as I was, you can just drive without any escort from the airport into town and drive around and get out, but in Kandahar it’s not quite the same. So it’s a province-by-province issue.
I can’t give you a defining answer on this, but it is of great concern to us because – and every American civilian who goes out there knows – is knowingly assuming a risk, and this is one of the reasons why Secretary Clinton and I and my colleagues are so deeply moved by the outpouring of volunteers to serve in Afghanistan since January of last year. We only had 300 civilians in Afghanistan when we took office. When I was ambassador to Germany, we had over 2,000. And now, we have tripled that, and as Secretary Vilsack and Administrator Shah have said, they’re growing. But it is not without risk, and we really understand that. Also, those 300 civilians were mainly on six-month tours. Now, we don’t take anyone at less than a year. And we are drilling down on this constantly.
MR. CROWLEY: Kirit.
QUESTION: Kirit Radia with ABC News. Ambassador Holbrooke, you brought up the CERP funds. I was curious – if Administrator Shah could address this also – about whether there’s an idea to adapt that idea to development, the availability of funds that can be used --
QUESTION: -- on a much quicker basis, an availability of funds that way.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, without perhaps directly answering the question because that’s a very specific program with its own rules around disbursements that are quite unique and tailored to their capacities, certainly USAID has a broad range of tools and techniques and capacities we can use for programming resources in different ways. Some resources can be programmed to – directly to governments, and there’s, of course, a lot of accountability and review and oversight in that context, and then that is part of the case in this situation, where there’s an attempt to build capacity in the ministry.
There are efforts to use different programs of ours like the Office of Transition Initiatives that do have more flexible resources, the ability to do contracts a little bit differently, and a different framework for oversight that allows them to move quickly and to adapt to different environments without the same comprehensive level of programmatic process that takes place in other parts of the program. So we’re developing a range of tools and applying them selectively where they’re most appropriate.
QUESTION: Anything specific that you’d like to tell us about?
ADMINSITRATOR SHAH: No. (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Raj, the OTI is our most flexible –
ADMINSITRATOR SHAH: It is.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: -- responsive program. You might want to mention that.
ADMINSITRATOR SHAH: Yeah, that’s the Office of Transition Initiatives, as I mentioned. It’s by far our most flexible tool, and it allows our folks in the field to be out making rapid decisions and determinations about which community groups and beneficiary groups to work with, and to very quickly both disburse resources to them and to have local capacity development and local contractors working in a focused way as if they are part of a village council or part of a local governing structure. So it’s – we actually learned a lot from programs the bank has used, like National Solidarity Program, and it’s very effective.
ABMASSADOR HOLBROOKE: There’s one other thing we’re trying to do. We can’t replicate CERP. It’s a unique fund. It saves American lives. But there are specific things that we can do, and as you may have heard yesterday when Secretary Clinton talked about development, she talked about her frustration with these contracts and how we want to cut them out. I was under direct instructions from her and from the President to try to minimize these because the contracts have long lead times.
First, you identify the program. Then you write a request for a proposal, an RFP, then four or five companies or NGOs bid on it. Then they pick. And this whole thing is done anonymously and it gets really locked in, and two years after you’ve identified the need, people are carrying out a rigid format and reporting that they’re fulfilling it and it doesn’t adjust to local conditions. And these two countries are fast-moving, so let me give you an example which I think responds to your point and which is directly from AID and which Jim Beaver and I worked out.
We have programs for women – we have women’s programs in Afghanistan, about $33 million. They were all done through contracts. We eliminated the contracts, took – which immediately saves 15 percent overhead at the top, turned it over to the ambassadors, an ambassadors’ fund for women, and gave him much greater discretion, and then administered it – unfortunately, it’s partially administered through an outside group because we – AID doesn’t have the manpower yet, but we’re going to fix that.
So the Ambassador now is not locked into turning the money over to some NGOs or some contractors in the Arlington area. He – where they carry out designs programs which were laid out two years ago. He can go to a village, he can go to a province, he can see an issue, he can give them money. It’s not CERP, but it is a long step forward, and we are trying to proliferate that. And now that Raj has been sworn in this is going to be one of our major efforts.
The Secretary of State is so interested in this that we’re looking – we’ll see if what we’re doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be applied elsewhere. And we’ve had extensive talks with particular attention to things like food security and Africa.
QUESTION: Yes. Jerry Hagstrom, National Journal. Could you tell us when Secretary Vilsack is leaving for Afghanistan? And also, could you give us some information on how the agriculture effort is organized in Afghanistan? Is there one person in charge of this effort for the U.S. Government, an AID person or a USDA person?
You’ve talked about a lot of different things, but I don’t get a context for how it’s all put together.
SECRETARY VILSACK: Jerry, the answer to your first question is: Soon. (Laughter.) The answer to the second question is: There’s a division of personnel. We think it’s important to have people in the field, so the majority of our workers. USDA folks are in the field, paired up with Afghans and working on a variety of issues, some of which I’ve already mentioned. We have folks who are working in the capital, who are working closely with the agriculture ministry, and pairing up in the categories that we’re focused on – agricultural productivity, regenerating agri-business, natural resource enhancement, and working on the change management.
That structure seems to be working well and seems to suggest the partnership that we’re trying to create and an understanding that this has to be Afghan-led. We will work in partnership, obviously, with USAID. We’re looking to Ambassador Holbrooke for leadership and direction. We see ourselves as a vital partner in this process.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yeah, I’m really glad you asked this question, and I want to amplify two things. One, Secretary Vilsack’s numbers were only U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel. There’s also a very substantial AID component. Secondly, when we got into office, there were 12 ag people in the country. There was no central coordination at all. There are now – we’re heading towards about a hundred, if – Otto, is that a fair number?
MR. GONZALEZ: It’s where – points where they have to (inaudible.)
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Total. And that doesn’t count the military, so – and the second point I want to make echoes what Secretary Vilsack just said. We have issued an edict – don’t identify yourself as AID or USDA. You are U.S. Mission. The motto out there – I know it’s corny, but the motto is “One team, one mission.” And there is a senior ag person, and although he is either USDA or AID, I don’t actually know which one it is and I don’t actually care. And they all report, in turn, to our new senior director of operations, who many of you know, Ambassador Tony Wayne. He’s been there about six months. So we are experimenting with, in a sense, pioneering new structures. The AID director reports to Ambassador Wayne. And the ag sector integrated reports directly to Ambassador Wayne, not through the AID guy and the senior ag guy.
Now, ever since I went to Vietnam a long time ago, they were always separated. And there was often a lot of either friction or stove piping, and we’re trying to break that down. It’s one of our major bureaucratic goals.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Yeah, and the only thing I would add is that – and I tried to speak about this this morning, and Secretary Clinton spoke about this yesterday when she gave a speech on her principles for development – one principle is you have to focus your resources on what you think are the transformative areas of change for social change and improvement, hence the focus on agriculture in this environment.
A second is approaching this work as a whole-of-government approach, deeply coordinated against that common strategy. And so the work the team on the ground has done to develop one shared strategy with the sense of shared goals and with the sense of clear responsibilities and accountabilities against that strategy is what then allows you to do that. So it’s an important example of the type of partnership that we were talking about. And I appreciate that.
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one last question or two – we’ll take two. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Raghubir Goyal from India Globe & Asia Today. First of all, congratulations, Mr. Shah, and Happy New Year to everyone.
My question is: Are we talking about this, Mr. Secretary or Mr. Ambassador, green revolution of India and Afghanistan, and how long it will take? And also, how can you protect from the – as far as security from the Taliban and these crops, and although once Afghanistan was exporters of fruits and nuts worldwide?
SECRETARY VILSACK: I think our first step in this process is to develop a relationship of trust. And in order to do that, we have to have – as Administrator Shah has suggested, we have to have concrete results. That’s why we’re spending a lot of time trying to create and trying to listen to precisely what the Afghans need of us. In some areas, it may be irrigation assistance. And so we’re working – we’ve got teams of people working on creating irrigation opportunities. During the Soviet conflict, the irrigation systems were destroyed, and so they have to be rebuilt.
In some areas, it may very well be talking about crop diversity, and basically making the case that more resources can be earned by Afghan farmers if they diversify their crops. In some cases, it may be working with Afghans to create some kind of storage opportunity so that the markets can be stabilized.
So there’s a wide variety of issues that we are working on. In some cases, it will be focused on forestry, because we – so many of the trees have been cut down. They need to be replanted. They need to return to the day when, as you indicated, they were a significant supplier.
Those – we know what the export opportunities are, and we know what has to be done. It’s now just getting people focused in an organized and structured way and trying to address the fundamental barriers that exist. We can be of assistance and help.
As it relates to the Taliban, I think our challenge is if we develop these relationships and confidence in the approach, then I think we take a very significant step forward in making areas of this country far more secure, and we give people a reason to resist the arguments and the activities of the Taliban.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Now, the – before we leave, I just want to close with our new slogan.
MR. CROWLEY: We promised we would get one more question.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Oh, we did? Okay. Go ahead, Violet.
QUESTION: Do you have time for a real quick one? It’s actually to you. You have been talking since you took this job about reducing the reliance on contractors. And I’m wondering if you’ve had any measurable progress yet? Are there any numbers you can give us about –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Measurable but insufficient, and we don’t have clear numbers, but so many of the contracts were multi-year. Another thing we’ve done, time and time again, we’ve been presented with situations where we wanted to end a contract but we couldn’t, because AID didn’t have the capacity to replace it. And these were three- and five-year contracts. We no longer do that. Every contract is no more than a year.
And thank God, Raj is here. This is going to be – this is – I’m going to hand this problem off to him. I know of no more complicated – so our new mantra, at least it’s new for me, is from a saying by Norman Borlaug, the great Nobel laureate who died last year who won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for – I think for the discovery of IR8, miracle wheat – miracle rice. And he said, quite simply, “If you desire peace, cultivate justice. But at the same time, cultivate the fields to produce more bread.”
And that is – in that spirit, on behalf of Secretary Clinton and all the rest of us in our office and in the Department, and if I may, Rajiv, for AID, we wish Secretary Vilsack Godspeed on this tremendously important trip. And as soon as he gets back, we will see if he’s willing to come back here and share his observations with you.
Thank you very much.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you all.
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