November 27, 2002
Purdue returns to Afghanistan to aid rebuilding efforts
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue University faculty members will travel to Afghanistan in early December as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize agriculture and engineering education, two areas critical to rebuilding the nation and its economy.
"Funding agencies and donors are looking at restarting agriculture as the primary method for getting the country back on its feet," said Kevin McNamara, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue. "Purdue agriculture faculty are providing research and training support to rebuild Afghanistan's agricultural sector and to assist in redeveloping agricultural education at the university level."
Purdue faculty also will focus on efforts to train a new generation of engineers to rebuild the nation's roads, power, water and sewer facilities, said Ray Eberts, director of Continuing Engineering Education and an associate professor of industrial engineering.
"Probably the biggest need will be in civil engineering because rebuilding the infrastructure is so important," Eberts said.
Eberts and McNamara will travel to Kabul during the first week of December, accompanied by Purdue graduate student Wasim Anwar, an Afghan native who speaks Pashto and Farsi. Anwar, who is working on a master's degree in computer technology, was born in Kabul. His family came to the United States in 1983.
"I am looking forward to the trip," Anwar said. "I will provide basic computer training to a group of selected individuals."
Purdue is teaming up with several institutions and agencies in its efforts to assist in rebuilding the agricultural sector. Initial efforts will focus on developing courses for university agriculture and veterinary science faculty and students and for government agricultural extension personnel. That effort also will involve the Afghan ministries of Higher Education and Agriculture; the Kabul University agriculture faculty; the horticulture and animal science faculty at the University of California, Davis; the International Center for Agriculture Research in Dry Areas; the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization; and the World Food Program in Afghanistan.
"In the 1970s, the economy of Afghanistan was driven by agriculture, and it was the primary source of foreign exchange," McNamara said. "Since then, the irrigation systems and roads have been destroyed. The supply chains to get seed and fertilizer are disrupted. There are some areas that have a lot of land mines. Production has been disrupted quite a bit."
By working with Afghan universities and agencies, together with agriculture producers, wholesalers and retailers, Purdue faculty will gain insights into "the dynamics of the situation in Afghanistan," McNamara said.
"This will enable us to better target our efforts to help revitalize the agriculture sector and support redevelopment of college-level agriculture and veterinary programs," McNamara said. "It also will allow us to link what we do in higher education to supporting redevelopment of the agriculture sector."
The United Nations estimates that agriculture accounted for 50 percent of Afghanistan's gross state product and employed 80 percent of the work force in 1992. Because of war and drought, current production is about 30 percent of 1992 levels. Observers estimate that it will cost more than $200 million to rehabilitate the agriculture sector. The manufacturing sector which primarily is dedicated to processing domestically produced agricultural raw materials has collapsed, McNamara said.
Purdue also is working with faculty at UC Davis and the Center for Agriculture Research in Dry Areas to find strategies for increasing horticultural crop and nut production to meet domestic consumption needs.
"In time, Afghan producers look to regain access to export markets for these products," McNamara said.
Eberts and Anwar will bring with them about eight computers to begin setting up a distance-education pilot program needed to train engineering faculty at Kabul University.
Of the 40 engineering teachers at the university, only two have master's degrees.
"The first goal is to build up the human resources in Afghanistan so they can then train engineers to go out and work on the infrastructure," Eberts said. "Not enough teachers are being trained in Afghanistan right now.
"The country needs to be able to send well-trained teachers out to the outlying villages to give people some hope that they can get an education that they can improve their lives."
The Purdue team will remain in Afghanistan for about a week.
Purdue plans to ship 40-50 used computers in the spring to Kabul University for distance learning. The computers are among machines that Purdue was scheduled to replace with newer equipment. The university also plans to invite about five Afghan educators to Purdue in April for a monthlong training session on distance-learning techniques.
Purdue recently received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to help Purdue set up the pilot program, Eberts said.
Plans call for the eventual establishment of four distance-learning centers two at Kabul University and one each at Kabul Polytechnic Institute and the Kabul University of Education. The distance-learning program would eventually enable about 20 Afghan engineering teachers to earn master's degrees from Purdue without ever leaving Afghanistan.
"These people are desperately needed in Kabul," Eberts said. "Bringing them to the United States at this point would make matters worse because that would destroy any engineering education currently going on in Afghanistan."
Purdue faculty members have met several times during the past year with Afghan officials, including the nation's minister of higher education, Sherief Fayez. Fayez was part of a group that included former Afghan officials meeting at Purdue in February to determine the current state of higher education in the country and plan for its future. Three Purdue faculty members traveled to Kabul in March to begin assessing how to aid efforts to rebuild higher education in Afghanistan.
"The minister of higher education hopes to place some emphasis on the education of teachers," Eberts said. "He mentioned that 48 percent of the students at Kabul University's teachers college now are women, which is a big change, of course, from when the Taliban was in control."
A future goal is to help Afghanistan set up regional campuses in outlying areas.
"What we have planned is to use distance education techniques to reach those areas," Eberts said. "So, a professor could teach in Kabul and then, using distance-education, either by satellite, the Internet or even videotapes, take the lecture out to a regional campus."
Of the $100,000 USAID grant, Purdue has set aside about $20,000 to refurbish rooms at Kabul University, said Tom Sparrow, a Purdue industrial engineering professor who has been involved in the effort.
Additional funding from private or government sources will be needed to set up a Kabul University studio that could be used to connect with regional campuses, Eberts said.
Setting up a full-fledged distance-learning system between Purdue and the Afghan institutions, however, will require as much as $1 million, Sparrow said.
"It's time to carve out a piece of the recovery process for higher education," he said.
Until more money is available, Purdue may send lectures on CD-ROMs to the four distance-learning centers.
McNamara will work with Afghan agriculture experts, both in higher education and government.
"I am going to be meeting with folks in the agriculture faculty to talk about their short-term training needs so that teachers can get skills that will allow them to participate in reconstruction," said McNamara, who has previously worked in Afghanistan and traveled to Kabul in March with two other Purdue faculty members. "I also will meet with people in the Ministry of Agriculture to talk about the kinds of training needs they have for their research and extension staff."
In addition to his work in Kabul, McNamara said he plans to assess agricultural programs at other Afghan universities, which are in Nangahar, Balkh, Herat and Kandahar provinces.
"A California Davis faculty member and I have been talking with the minister of higher education about trying to assess the faculty and physical resource capabilities of those institutions," he said.
Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Ray Eberts, (765) 494-0212, email@example.com
Kevin McNamara, (765) 494-4236, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Sparrow, (765) 494-7043, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
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A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/tyner.afghanistan.jpeg.