WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The American Soybean Association’s (ASA) World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials joined Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Eklil Ahmad Hakimi and a key Afghan business leader for a signing ceremony. Held at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Jan. 20 event marked the launch of a new agricultural trade association to promote oil crops for both food and feed in Afghanistan.

"Agriculture, not only historically, but also traditionally, is the main component of our economic growth," said Ambassador Hakimi. "I’m sure that soybeans will contribute not only to the economy and agricultural development of Afghanistan, but more importantly, they will have a positive implication for the security of our country."

Abdul Ghafoor is chairman of the new Oil Crops Growers Association of Afghanistan (OCGAA) that includes 11 founding members representing different sectors of the agricultural value chain. These members will plan and implement the initiative through a USDA Food for Progress three-year soy value-chain project with WISHH. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Acting Administrator Suzanne Heinen also joined the event at the Afghan embassy.

During the ceremony, Ghafoor described the "enormous good" that the initiative can do to mobilize and encourage Afghanistan’s use of oil crops to produce edible oils for human consumption, as well as animal feed to develop its livestock industries. "And we’ll create jobs," Ghafoor said.

"ASA’s WISHH program is pleased to be part of this landmark USDA effort to assist Afghanistan in starting a trade association that uses oilseed crops to develop their food and feed industries," said WISHH Chairman David Iverson, a South Dakota soybean grower. "This work offers great potential for the production of animal feed for poultry and livestock as well as human foods."

WISHH and partners are implementing the multi-faceted Soybeans in Agricultural Renewal of Afghanistan (SARAI) project that uses soybeans to benefit Afghan farmers, food processors, and rural communities as well as women and children. In 2011, SARAI helped open Afghanistan’s first soybean processing facility. SARAI also provides a total of 80 tonnes of defatted soy flour, 13,750 tonnes of soybean oil and 6,000 tonnes of soybeans over three year. Over the life of the program and all of its activities, this project will benefit more than 405,000 Afghan people.

Currently, Afghanistan imports more than 90% of its cooking oil. Much of that is palm oil. Afghanistan’s poultry and livestock industries also look to expand with quality meal from oilseed crops, such as soybeans. Growth of these oilseed-based industries will improve Afghan diets as well as create jobs and other economic progress.

Therefore, the new oilseed association, with assistance from WISHH, will conduct a review of all the oilseed research available in Afghanistan to identify opportunities and obstacles as well as make recommendations on how to address them. The new association will also compile information on edible oils in Afghanistan and ways for the feed industry to use oilseed cakes. It will also hold a conference on edible oils in Afghanistan.