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Minnesota National Guard
The Buzz About Sustainable Infrastructure

Minnesota National Guard Retired Army Master Sgt James Doten describes his basic interpretation of sustainability as people, prosperity, and planet When Doten was selected to deploy with the Minnesota Agribusiness Development Team (ADT3) in November 2011- September 2012 it was based on more than twenty years civilian experience as a hydrogeologist  Instead he found himself becoming an expert on honeybees and consequently the subject of sustainability    

"Where the team was in the desert did not have efficient natural pollinators and the crops grown there require cross-pollination," Doten explained In an attempt to mitigate the problem, the previous ADT  in the Zabul Province had established a project using European honeybees They were looking for someone with beekeeping expertise to step up during the next phase of the mission 

Doten volunteered his time, and paid his own way, for a beekeeping course at the University of Minnesota, taught by Marla Spivak The course would prove to be a vital stepping-stone when encountering problems he would soon face

When the Minnesota team arrived there were 20 hives across the province, with five located in Zabul The new mission was intended to scale up to 160 hives, which was a very large and costly project Once Doten got there he discovered that every hive was dead! 

The project was at a devastating stand still and more significantly, "Afghans tend to lose faith in our abilities when projects fail, because it shows that we don't understand their ways We lose the ability to get any message across when something goes wrong like this," Doten explained

What issue Doten discovered was that European honeybees were considered exotic for the area and a local wasp was wiping them out There was also a virroa mite that was infecting and killing the hives The European bees did not have a defense built against either one and therefore the environment killed them 

"People focused on the honey money to get the news story, and that was it, but soon after the whole thing collapsed Therefore the return on investment was negative, spending three dollars to give a dime," Doten assessed 

Col Eric Ahlness, commander of the ADT3 echoed the reaction, "Although most people focused on honey production, the pollenization effort by the bees was much more important to increasing production of a variety of crops Bees were important on a private and commercial level in Afghanistan ensuring increases in production in remote areas, as well as, along the major commercial corridors"

From class, Doten learned there were other alternatives He began research on bees in Asia to find out what bees are working in the area and what has been successful He learned of the Asian honeybee (Apis Cerana) They found a supplier in the province that happened to have access to the Asian honeybees and for under $2,000 they were able to purchase ten hives

"The Asian bee has a natural defense against the virroa mite and has developed a way to kill the invading wasp The Asian bee is a little better pollinator, is more easily managed for the smaller villages and more tolerant to mistakes," Doten clarified

Doten discovered that, "Since the bee and it's hive are smaller the equipment is cheaper because it is simpler So it is easier to make a positive return on investment" Doten incorporated the use of a Japanese box hive so that anyone with a saw and a hammer could make the hives to mimic their natural environment, keeping it as reproducible as possible This change demonstrated respect for Afghan traditions 

Doten provided Sgt. 1st Class Tony Hunter, another deployed ADT3 soldier, with hands-on instruction, books and videos on beekeeping Hunter worked on a small demonstration site to provide proof of concept in Shar-e-safa He had established a connection with local villager who was willing to take on the new agricultural endeavor spreading hives throughout their village in their orchards 

"The primary thing we tried to do was to get local people involved in the training of their countrymen," Hunter explained "The last thing we wanted to do was to tell the famers directly how to farm So you would teach the extension agents and they would teach the farmers So it was a train the trainer style," Doten noted 

The bees began finding things to pollinate and stocking up the boxes with nectar and pollen in their comb, and even making babies "The bees create a healthier desert and better formed fruit For example, apples are better and almond production goes up forty percent This increases village income by about 1/3, and that's even without honey This was great for stability," Doten explained

"Beekeeping at the local level provided a great economic opportunity for under-employed members of society The training they received enabled them to grow and expand hives creating greater economic vitality," Ahlness added 

Doten was then requested to write up a white paper to be presented to Brig Gen Timothy McGuire, Deputy Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division who commanded their region of Afghanistan From there the paper was requested to be published at the University of California, Davis, because they have a program focused on Afghan agriculture 

The 14-page paper also went to the USDA who took it to the state department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) USAID is putting it into a university program in Afghanistan that will develop it into the MAIL so it can be distributed to the rest of the country, and thus produce a high return on the investment

The Minnesota ADT3 mission was to help increase the agricultural production of Zabul Province while assisting the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) to develop an extension service similar to what is found in the US The purpose of the effort was to provide a legal and sustainable agricultural system which promoted stability, employed young men on the farms, and provided a path to peace in Afghanistan 

More importantly, "In the poorest least developed areas of Afghanistan beekeeping gives opportunities other than violence and an alternative to the Taliban," Doten concluded

James Doten now works as the Environmental inspector with the city of Minneapolis and deals with any pollution that occurs outside of buildings  He still can't get enough of the bees  In more recent and local sustainability efforts Doten and his boss Patrick Hanlon are setting up a demonstration project to put bees on top of City Hall with the same concept of increasing pollination yield, quality of food produced, garden yield and community benefits  The project is done thru donors, with no tax dollars spent, and partnered with the City of Minneapolis Sustainability office 

24 June, 2013
By Staff Sgt Jennifer Rechtfertig
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs

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