Who knew Afghans don’t like soybeans?


Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko at soybean factory in Mazar-e Shari, Afghanistan. (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report, via Flickr)

Technically, this is not news — in that it sadly happens all too frequently — but the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction issued a report Thursday slamming a $34.4 million Agriculture Department aid program Afghanistan for trying to “create a market for soybean products” when “Afghans apparently have never grown or eaten soybeans before.”

The report faulted Agriculture for not having its contractor, the American Soybean Association (ASA), “conduct feasibility . . . studies” before starting the project in 2010.

Seems the British international aid agency had conducted “scientific research” between 2005 and 2008, the report  noted, and “concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented by ASA.”

Even so, Agriculture shelled out $34.4 million in “commodities, transportation and administrative funds to ASA” for the project, but production “has not met expectations and there are doubts” about the “sustainability” of a processing factory that had been built.

Agriculture, in response, noted numerous “challenges,” to the project, including “insecurity in the region” — apparently a reference to those Taliban folks — “that affected production results.”

In addition, “farmers remained reluctant to switch to soybean production” despite efforts by the Afghan government and others. But Agriculture is modifying the program “to incorporate lessons learned,” shifting resources and taking other steps to increase production.

Better move quickly since the program is ending pretty soon.

For more on why this report isn’t news, see the first chapter of our pal Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s brilliant book, “Little America,” about American aid efforts to build canals in Helmand province.

 

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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