Finding a Way: USDA Husband/wife Team Helps Form Soybean Farmers' Associations in Afghanistan

By MullWike, Eva Nell | Rural Cooperatives, July-August 2011 | Go to article overview

Finding a Way: USDA Husband/wife Team Helps Form Soybean Farmers' Associations in Afghanistan


MullWike, Eva Nell, Rural Cooperatives


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When David and Donna Mull arrived in Afghanistan in 2010 on a one-year mission to help expand the wartorn nation's fledgling soybean industry, most farmers were threshing their soybeans by laying the crop on rocks and beating it with sticks, then transporting it 30 miles or more by donkey. Today, farmers in the two provinces where the Mulls worked have formed their own associations that help growers harvest, process and market their crop using more modern techniques.

As a result of the Mull s work and the many others they teamed with, production has increased, jobs have been created and lives have been improved.

Unique skills set aids mission

The Mulls were the first husband-wife team on active duty with USDA ever to be deployed together to Afghanistan, where they worked side by side with farmers and others. The challenges of their one-year tour of duty with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) in Afghanistan were many. However, their wide array of skills gave them the confidence and commitment necessary for the mission.

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Donna Mull, a human resource specialist with USDA Rural Development in Georgia, was able to draw upon her expertise and "people skills" during the assignment. From the start, she was cognizant of the many challenges facing her and drew on her earlier farming experiences. "I felt like my previous experiences were invaluable. They enabled me to contribute to meeting some of the vast needs of the Afghan people, while at the same time serving my country."

David Mull, a retired command sergeant major with the U.S. Army and a Vietnam War veteran, is a business program specialist with USDA Rural Development in Georgia. His military and business experience, as well as the couple s past experience owning and operating small farms in three states, gave them a wide array of skills and knowledge that served their mission well in Afghanistan. In a CBS News interview before departure, he explained his position: "I look upon this endeavor as an opportunity to serve my country and at the same time to help the Afghan people."

After a few weeks of training, the Mulls arrived in Afghanistan on March 3, 2010. "We arrived in Kabul late at night and, to our surprise, it was raining. We thought it was going to be dry and hot," he said.

"I had not had such an 'uphill ' experience since my arrival in Vietnam for a second tour of duty there! It was a little disconcerting, and my first thought was 'What have I gotten myself and my wife into now? It took a few days for the shock to diminish."

Soon they were "embedded" with the Kentucky National Guard Agribusiness Development Team (ADT). Their service area included four provinces in northeastern Afghanistan, north of Kabul.

Enhancing production

The Mulls quickly focused their attention on finding a way to enhance the productivity of the farmers of the region. Opportunity soon knocked when Col. Mike Farley, commander of the Kentucky ADT, requested that David Mull "find a way" to build a soybean processing mill in Parwan Province. At the time, the nearest soybean mill in Afghanistan was 30 miles away, in Kabul, where farmers delivered their soybeans by donkey.

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Drawing on his USDA experience, David Mull formed a plan to establish a soybean-flour processing facility in Parwan Province. He contacted Nutrition Education International (NEI), a California-based nonprofit that was instrumental in introducing soybeans as a crop for Afghan farmers. NEI soon joined the effort to establish a new soybean-processing facility.

NEI had conducted research on six different varieties of soybeans over a three-year period. By 2005, NEI was helping to produce soybeans in 12 Afghan provinces.

The NEI soybean initiative was soon adopted as a national program by the Afghan government. …

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