Back in March, I wrote a post about our government’s work to support small farmers in Afghanistan, noting that many of the efforts and initiatives the Missouri National Guard was rightly developing over there are the exact sorts of things that are discouraged, unfunded, or outright illegal back home. Whether or not you read that post then, please read it now before continuing, because I now have even more reasons to raise this important question.
Saturday’s Columbia Tribune carried a followup article on the Guard’s excellent work with Afghan farmers, noting that:
Guard units have helped build irrigation systems, distributed wheat seed to farmers, set up canning plants for fruits and vegetables, and planted thousands of fruit and nut trees, among other projects.
This is good stuff, as these programs are excellent ways to help these farmers transition away from poppy/opium production and earn livings on more sustainable and ethical products. The glaring question left unanswered, however, is why such things are so looked-down-on in the US?
Replace “Missouri small farmers” with “Afghan small farmers” in either of these articles, and you’d be laughed out of the room. Small-scale canning plants? Good luck getting loans or regulatory approval to do that here. Frankly, I’d be okay with fending for ourselves if everyone else had to as well. But when every kind of farm and food production EXCEPT small, local, direct-market farms is already subsidized, and when even Afghan farmers get better aid and support than we do, there’s something deeply wrong.
It’s not just a question of government priorities. It’s a question of logic. If these small canning plants (and the mobile slaughterhouses mentioned in the previous article) are apparently safe and effective enough for the Afghan population, why aren’t they for Americans? We have serious regulatory and financial barriers to any kind of regionalized food system in this country, yet apparently these things are simple, cheap, and easy enough to develop that poor Afghan farmers are expected to be able to use them economically and safely. So why can’t American farmers be allowed to show and use the same ingenuity and entrepreneurship we’re trying to instill in Afghanistan?
It seems that Kit Bond has been instrumental in helping the Missouri National Guard to the forefront of these activities, but I wonder what his vote would be a similar attempt was made to allow these useful developments for Missouri small farmers like us? Any chance we could get the National Guard to help build the Columbia Farmers Market Pavilion? Or do I have to start planting poppies first?