About the Author: Kelly McCaleb is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Governments alone can't solve the many problems caused by landmines and explosive remnants of war in post-conflict countries around the world. That's why the State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement works with a host of partner organizations through public-private partnerships to help make the world safe from the humanitarian impact of landmines, unexploded and abandoned ordnance, deteriorating stockpiles of munitions, and illicit conventional weapons.
One of the many non-governmental organizations that has partnered with the State Department for the last 12 years, Roots of Peace, a California-based humanitarian organization, is dedicated to eradicating landmines worldwide and rehabilitating agricultural land to make it productive once more.
Roots of Peace Founder Heidi Kuhn focuses not only on demining, but also on replanting and rebuilding to promote recovery by rebuilding agricultural infrastructure commonly disrupted by landmines during conflicts. In her own words, "We have the ability within our midst, as humankind, to solve this problem."
Roots of Peace has been turning mines to vines in the war-torn regions of Croatia since 1999. With contributions from the State Department and other donors, and in close cooperation with the Croatian Mine Action Center (CROMAC), Roots of Peace has funded the clearance of over 500,000 square meters of land in Croatia, removing landmines and unexploded ordnance. Many of these clearance projects, which were executed by local Croatian demining companies, were facilitated through the Slovenia-based International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance, and matched by the State Department. For example, in Ilok, where some of the most intense fighting during the Balkan conflict took place, Roots of Peace funded the clearance of nearly 65,000 square meters of land. Today, grape growers and winemakers alike are able to reap the benefits of the agricultural wealth of the region.
Both sides of the border suffered from the cruel legacy of landmines planted in the 1990s. Another area that was contaminated by landmines during the conflict lies along the border of the Serb village of Cista Male and the Croat village of Cista Velika. There, Roots of Peace, in collaboration with the State Department and other international donors, safely cleared nearly 234,000 square meters of prime agricultural land, benefiting both villages. Today, the children of Cista Male and Cista Velika are able to play without fear throughout the area. Further, economic prosperity has been sparked in the region once again. With the prospect of planting grapes and producing wine, a renewal of friendship and shared prosperity is now in reach.
From pomegranates in Afghanistan, to cacao in Vietnam, Roots of Peace is turning over the seeds of war and planting harvests of hope around the world. On the horizon, Roots of Peace is looking forward to launching a pilot program in Israel. Kuhn is excited for the opportunity to work in a new region, planting seeds of peace and turning mines into vines.
The United States is proud to be the world's single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action. Under the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action program -- a partnership among the State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the United States has provided more than $1.8 billion toward landmine clearance and conventional weapons destruction in more than 80 countries.