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U.S. squandered $34 million on failed Afghan soybean project

Washington Times, July 24, 2014 

Despite clear evidence that Afghanistan’s arid soil was a bad place to grow soybeans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $34.4 million trying to establish the crop in that country, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 

The money was routed to a trade group, the American Soybean Association, as part of a humanitarian effort to improve food security and reduce dependence on food imports, but federal watchdogs found the idea was poorly conceived however well-intentioned. 

Of most concern, the federal agency apparently ignored studies by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development that concluded soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in Afghanistan. Furthermore, there isn’t a significant demand for soybean products in Afghanistan, according to SIGAR’s analysis. In its response to Mr. Sopko’s letter, the USDA acknowledged that the program’s success was uncertain. 

According to the SIGAR report, the program’s main processing plant could produce soy products such as animal feed, oil and flour. The plant needed to produce mostly soy flour to remain economically profitable, the report said. For the main soybean processing facility to operate at full capacity, farmers need to harvest 5,000 to 5,500 tons of soybeans. In the 2013 harvest season, farmers were able to produce only 177 tons, according to the American Soybean Association’s midterm report released in February. 

To make up for the deficiency in Afghan soy, 4,400 tons of American soy were flown to Afghanistan at a cost of $2 million. As of March 2013, the U.S. had spent about $92 billion on reconstruction, agriculture and other development projects, according to SIGAR.