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Agricultural Knowledge is a Powerful Tool for the Civil Affairs Practitioner

Updated: Feb 9, 2020

Food security is recognized by DoD as a serious threat multiplier and yet there is no specific MOS or instructional training course to address this critical issue. Agricultural Development for Armed Forces Pre-Deployment Training (ADAPT) is designed to fill this crucial void through its tactical level agricultural security skills training program that provides DoD Civil Affairs practitioners with fundamental, quick impact agriculture, food security assessment and rapid intervention techniques for those deploying to at-risk, rural regions. The training also prepares Civil Affairs personnel for increased participation and influence within the operation, actions and activities of supported combatant commanders.

ADAPT was formed out of a consortium of colleges led by Fresno State University that was originally created to train service members for deployment to Afghanistan but has now expanded to serve all geographic combatant commands. More than 2,000 individuals have taken the 3-5 day course, now in its 5th year of operation. The impact of the training remains clear – many of the skills learned from the ADAPT training contribute to the development of core competencies that help to grow Civil Affairs functional experts in agriculture systems and food security, which then develops their ability to identify and mitigate potential triggers of instability at the village level.

The course is conducted with a mix of classroom instruction and practical, hands-on training in a real farm environment utilizing plants and agro-climatic characteristics that reflect the AOR focus of the students taking the training. By utilizing agriculture as a conflict mitigation tool, ADAPT provides Civil Affairs practitioners with a quick impact roadmap to food system instability that can be caused by human factors (insurgencies, civil unrest), climate related (natural disaster relief and recovery) or disease/health related (pandemic disease outbreaks).

The course provides practical training on watershed management, irrigation, soil, horticulture, livestock management, nutrition and health. Everything is taught within the context of sustainable agriculture and environmental systems with an emphasis on the resilience of food systems and human well-being. ADAPT is not about teaching anyone to become a farmer. ADAPT teaches Civil Affairs practitioners how to identify a potential problem and link in an agricultural specialist to fix it.

Many refer to ADAPT as the training that fills the agricultural knowledge gap which typically defines the inextricable relationship between food insecurity and conflict. The training is designed for the operational level practitioner to help understand why food insecurity is a destabilizing factor in rural communities where extremists typically operate. ADAPT guides personnel on how to close off that food insecurity path to insurgents, why, when and how food insecurity occurs and how to identify low-cost, high impact, steps to quickly address food security problems.

Specifically, for the Civil Affairs practitioner, ADAPT can be utilized in the following three ways:

  1. Pre-Deployment Training: ADAPT can focus training on your specific AO, providing the fundamental skills and understanding of agriculture and food security in that AO to further develop your plan prior to deployment. Once you deploy ADAPT helps builds theatre-based networks and also provides reach back expertise through its more than 25 subject matter experts.

  1. Situational Awareness: Because ADAPT training expands the practitioner’s understanding of the relationship between agriculture, food security and instability, it helps improve an understanding of the operational environment before and during deployment.

  1. Operations, Actions and Activities: By including ADAPT in engagements and training exercises with partner nations (ADAPT already works with a number of NG State Partnership Programs) practitioners are able to inject their knowledge of agriculture once downrange and offer immediate ways to improve agro economic conditions and engender trust with the rural population.

The training has received extremely positive feedback over the years and continues to be effective by promoting the message of peace and stability through Phase 0 Operations while addressing a critical functional expertise gap in Civil Affairs. In addition to serving as a solid prerequisite for a potential agriculture focused MOS, ADAPT also helps operationalize the Civil Affairs mission by promoting economic development and food security as one of the key Pillars of Stability Operations within Civil Affairs.

ADAPT was recognized as a particularly successful program during the Afghanistan conflict in an independent review conducted by Dexis Consulting in 2013. The results of the comprehensive study on the impact of the course, which was delivered to nearly 1,000 stability practitioners who subsequently deployed to Afghanistan, concluded that “92 percent of ADAPT students indicated their training made a significantly positive difference in mission effectiveness” and also “88 percent of military students who took the ADAPT course indicated they had passed information received from the training to their own unit members.” The training continues to receive high marks from its graduates and, perhaps most importantly, ADAPT has expanded its curriculum to include instruction for Civil Affairs practitioners in PACOM, AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM with plans to provide program delivery to all geographic combatant commands.

Whatever the AO might be, it is important to stress that ADAPT is simply one additional tool for the Civil Affairs community to use to assist the commander to meet his or her objectives. ADAPT can help the practitioner answer the supported commander’s inevitable first encounter question of “What can Civil Affairs do for me?” Consequently, ADAPT provides the stimulus for the Civil Affairs practitioner to influence a commander’s plan. ADAPT graduates have the fundamental tools to grow their practice and readiness to address critical issues of food security and instability.

ADAPT will soon be offering an Agriculture Certificate Program and will continue to serve as a training pipeline for an advanced degree program to assist in growing Functional Experts within the Civil Affairs community of practitioners. Fresno State University is also planning to provide training in agricultural skills to military veterans to enhance their capability to enter employment in the humanitarian community following their military careers or while serving as an active reservist.

The next ADAPT training is scheduled for December 6-8, 2016 in San Diego, California. Registration for the course is available online for $1,200 per participant at the following link:

Bill Erysian, Ph.D., is the Director of ADAPT and also serves as Associate Director for the Institute for Food and Agriculture at Fresno State University. He can be reached at

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