By: Louisa Bargeron

It was just a few weeks ago that Administrator Rajiv Shah described USAID’s plan for modernizing foreign assistance through a series of reforms to promote sustainable development and highlight the role of development in national security.  In Afghanistan, USAID’s efforts promotes security here and in the U.S. through coordinated civil-military projects like the Incentives Driving Economic Alternatives – North, East, West initiative (IDEA-NEW).

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), walk with Lt. Col. William Johnson in Surkh Rod, Nangarhar Province, on Wednesday, February 9, 2011. (S.K. Vemmer/Department of State)

Yesterday, Administrator Shah traveled to Forward Operating Base Connelly in Nangahar, Afghanistan to observe first-hand how sustainable initiatives like the Surkhrod Packing facility (part of the IDEA-NEW program) support national security.  The Surkhrod Pack House (SPH) is a critical link in transforming the agricultural sector of Afghanistan’s Eastern Region from reliance on illicit crop production into a driving force of national economic security and growth.  Additionally, these efforts have longer-term, residual effects as Afghans learn to build and sustain their own agricultural sector.  In Administrator Shah’s words, rather than just provide emergency aid, USAID is investing in capabilities and solutions that energize investments and fuel growth today while at the same time bolstering America’s competitiveness tomorrow.

By providing alternative livelihoods and job opportunities, USAID is offering viable choices to Afghans to move beyond the violence and conflict that has afflicted the region.  Through modernized practices, USAID’s work in conflict-prone environments ultimately protects national security and contributes to American prosperity.

IDEA-NEW is a $150 million USAID project that provides agricultural incentives and economic alternatives in the East as well as in poppy-prone regions of the country.  Since launching in 2009, this initiative has created 27,700 full-time equivalent jobs in agriculture; expanded sustainable agriculture production by more than 5,000 hectares; facilitated $2.6 million in agricultural exports to Pakistan; and employed more than 26,700 people and paid $4.4 million in wages for community-constructed infrastructure projects.

The SPH project represents a critical link in transforming the agricultural sector of Afghanistan’s Eastern Region from reliance on illicit crop production into a driving force of national economic security and growth.