WASHINGTON D.C.– In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded a project called the Soybeans for Agricultural Renewal in Afghanistan Initiative. Implemented by the American Soybean Association, the project cost approximately $34.4 million and aimed to make soybeans a cash crop and a diet staple for the country, providing valuable nutrients and protein.
There was one problem with the soybean initiative. Afghans know no nothing about soybeans. They have never grown the crop and the few that have eaten soy products have said that they do not even enjoy the taste.
An audit conducted by the Special General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Spoko found that the attempt to change the diets of Afghans has been plagued with mismanagement, poor government oversight and financial waste.
Regardless, the project was funded and implemented.
What was perhaps the most damaging comment that Spoko wrote in the audit was “What is troubling about this particular project is that it appears that many of these problems could reasonably have been foreseen and, therefore, possibly avoided.”
In 2010, before the project began, research conducted for the UK Department of International Development between 2005 and 2008 found that soybeans would not be successful in Afghanistan. The research found that Afghanistan had an unsuitable climate and farming culture incompatible with large-scale production for soybeans to become successfully implemented into Afghanistan.
A factory designed to create a local soybean economy in Mazar-e-Sharif was created and managed at a cost of $1.5 million. However, the first crop failed and the subsequent crops were meager and did not produce enough to use the factory.
Farmers also became disillusioned by the failures and setbacks and the majority abandoned efforts to grow the crop.
Approximately 4,000 metric tons of soybeans costing over $2 million have been imported from the United States to utilize the factory. Nevertheless, operations have still been so hindered that the possibility that factory may be dismantled and sold is a real concern.
This is only one of many issues that have afflicted the program. In addition, this program is part of a larger allocation problem. A special congressionally chartered group called the Commission on Wartime Contracting found in 2011 that the U.S. misused almost a third of its funds allocated for Afghanistan.
Anthony H. Cordesmen, a Middle East specialist and former defense intelligence analyst who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, stated that the majority of projects were “short-term aid projects, without an assessment of the overall economy, with reliance on contractors. And for most of the time you didn’t have effective auditing procedures.”
Nonetheless, there may still be some benefits from the initiative. The spokesperson for the Agricultural Department, Gwen Sparks, has called the criticisms of the audit “premature.” In particular, she referenced the improvements made to Afghanistan’s irrigation systems and its road system for better trade.
Jim Hershey, the executive director of the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, the division of the American Soybean Association that manages the initiative, said that the audit selected the smaller issues of the project while failing to acknowledge the success. The department is currently exploring the potential for implementing soybean products into livestock and poultry systems.
Regardless, the initiative will no longer receive any more funding beyond the $34.4 million it has already received. However, the project will continue to search for funding from other sources.
– William Ying