STATESBORO, GA (WTOC) - Wes Harris is still getting used to home again. Bulloch County's UGA extension agent spent the past year in Afghanistan. He worked within the US Department of Agriculture as a bridge between American troops and Afghan farmers.
"It was all part of that civilian upsurge people may have heard about," he explained.
He helped introduce farmers to new crops and new techniques to make them more productive and develop their economy. However, he spent part of his time trying to eradicate their illegal crops, including the source of heroin.
"This was a huge area in terms of poppy production. About 80 percent of the world's poppy comes from that area," he stated.
Harris said the culture is torn over the illegal plant. Muslim religion forbids such drugs, but many people accept it as a way to support one's family. He compared it to rural America's moonshine "industry" in the early to mid 1900's. The mission for Harris and others was to give farmers the tools to find other means to generate income.
"We're dealing with farmers who have five to six acres of land each. So anything they can grow that puts money in their pocket, they're interested in," Harris noted.
Productivity was roughly a century behind American farmers, he said.
" Probably 200 or 300 modern American farmers could equal what 70,000 to 80,000 Afghan farmers currently do.
He said the country's new police force and new government are stepping in as well. All of that has combined to convince many farmers to get out of the poppy business. Now back at home, he said he appreciates his own country even more.
"I don't take anything for granted anymore. We live in the greatest nation by far on this earth," he concluded. "Our freedom is so precious. You almost have to travel to somewhere else to fully appreciate it."
Despite the year away from home, he's proud he helped lay a foundation for progress.