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“Would you rather have 100 more soldiers or 10 agronomists?”


Written by Plant With Purpose on October 13, 2009 in General


by Doug Satre

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but actually this was a question Gen. Karl Elkenberry, America’s leading general and now Ambassador to Afghanistan, routinely asked his field commanders. The answer he got back, 9 times out of 10, was that his commanders would take the agronomists. Surprised? To see the article click here:

The answer highlights the often-overlooked role of agricultural development that lies at the heart of some of our world’s bloodiest conflicts. Historically, many of our planet’s wars have been fought to control farmland. Rome conquered Egypt, not just for the monuments, but so that it could become the “bread basket of the Roman Empire.” Current conflict in Zimbabwe, Congo, Ethiopia, etc have more to do with farming-related issues as it has to do with political ideology.

PWP sees this reflected in many of the places where we work, especially on the Haiti- Dominican border, and in Burundi, where returning refugees are struggling to settle back into their old communities and find land to farm. We see first-hand the crucial role that sustainable agriculture plays in overcoming conflict and establishing peace in rural communities. It can seem like slow going, at times, but the results are long-lasting.

Yet, most of the money our country spends abroad still goes towards weapons, or at best, emergency food aid, rather than actual agricultural development. (Foreign Affairs recently reported that in Africa the US spends 20 times the amount of money on emergency food aid as on agricultural development.)

I wonder why that is? Maybe because sending more soldiers, or air-drops of more food, seems to promise immediate results, providing short-term solutions to pressing problems. Maybe it’s because we are moved to action by a crisis, and farming sounds kind of boring.

I wonder if those commanders in the field ever got their agronomists? What do you think? 



This post was pulled from the archives and was originally posted May 22, 2009.

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