At right, Hal Carey, Idyllwild resident and U.S. Agency of International Development officer, was stationed at the U.S. consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, when it was bombed and attacked in September.   Photo by J.P. Crumrine
Hal Carey, Idyllwild resident and U.S. Agency of International Development officer, was stationed at the U.S. consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, when it was bombed and attacked in September. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

The American consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, was attacked in the early morning of Sept. 13. Idyllwild resident Hal Carey was there. He’s now home and recovering from a knee injury related to the attack.

Carey, an agricultural development officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, tries to help local governments improve their food production and security.

While it seems like a simple project, the work is complex and covers topics from food shortages to identifying economically viable crops, and their benefits and nutritional values. And the answers differ from country to country.

Afghanistan, Carey’s first AID assignment, was obviously a hardship post; but his next assignment will be Tanzania, in Africa.

“This will be a more normal assignment and a chance to make a difference,” he said smiling. The work will focus on agricultural goals through policy development and trade. “I expect a lot of support, especially from the highest levels,” he added. He’ll work with U.S. companies to help build partnerships between private industry and foreign governments.

But in every situation, he is trying to improve the local agriculture, its techniques and husbandry.

In Afghanistan, part of the mission was to work through the local government to demonstrate that the mission

itself had value to the residents. Helping to build and authenticate democracy was a daily effort.

Poppy flowers and seeds were a big issue in Afghanistan.
the local economy to higher value crops such as fruits, nuts, saffron and cashmere to offset the illicit income.

But obstacles can be numerous and subtle. For example, laws and cultural norms affecting land tenure have an enormous influence on agricultural productivity. In areas where the land is owned communally, investment in seeds, land improvements and equipment can be limited. In other cultures, the land goes to sons. After many generations of subdivision, a large acreage can be reduced to a few acres, whose small size also hinders agricultural investment and crop productivity. Another modern occurrence is the urban migration, which will render land under-utilized and fallow.

“Eventually, some of these communities become locked into subsistence status,” Carey said. “We try to balance two thoughts: Helping the small older farmer be more productive with what they have. Second is to help develop a context for agricultural business, which can grow and produce more food.

“One common problem is the encouragement of subsistence farming, which only leads to a life of poverty,” he noted.

Carey did not come from an agricultural family, but his experience has always led him to careers in which he could help, particularly while working outdoors. Two tours with the Peace Corps re-enforced this motivation.

“I’ve always wanted to serve my country. The military isn’t my personality, but I’ve looked for other opportunities,” Carey explained. “In the Peace Corps, I learned a lot about myself and international opportunities.

From 1996 to 1998, he was a forestry volunteer in Ghana and from 2002 to 2003, he was in China where he taught environmental science to high school and university students.

From the Peace Corps, he migrated to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s emergency watershed protection, where he discovered Idyllwild while helping the local forest recover from the latest bark beetle infestation. Next he became the San Jacinto Ranger District’s forester in January 2008. Three years later, he returned to his international roots.

But on the early morning of Sept. 13, a tremendous explosion woke him from sleep. He said he felt the compression wave as well as hearing the cacophony of the alarms and gunfire outside. He and the other civilians living in the consulate knew what to do because of the weekly training sessions.

The communications system was unharmed and enough time to allow them to quickly call home and tell family they were safe despite the attack.

“There was an 8-foot crater in front of the compound,” Carey said, describing the assault’s damage. All the Americans were safe and evacuated out of Afghanistan and returned home to recuperate.

Even today, Carey remains optimistic. “One of the best things we accomplished in the last 10 years is a huge increase in literacy. When the U.S. forces arrived, about 15 percent of the men and 5 to 7 percent of the women were literate. Now, eight million kids are in schools and almost half are girls,” he said proudly.

Although he has no plans to ever return to Afghanistan, Carey is anxiously anticipating his new assignment. “We have a simple mandate — to eliminate hunger in the world,” he said.

“I look forward to our kids growing up in a different culture and seeing how one person can make a difference, learning a language, and spending time in Africa,” he said about his family’s future.

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected].