Killer Fungus is no Mystery to Afghan Poppy Growers

Afghanistan's opium producers believe they are victims of a biological attack by the United States. (Photo by Reuters)Afghanistan’s opium producers believe they are victims of a biological attack by the United States. (Photo by Reuters)Reports of a “mysterious” fungus that has damaged opium poppy crops in Afghanistan have hit international headlines but on the ground the “mystery” is an open secret. Helmand farmers interviewed by BBC Pashto service for the early morning news programme a couple of days ago were convinced that “they” had deliberately destroyed the crops.

The pronoun “they” is a euphemism for US secret agents, whom farmers suspect of having sprayed the crops with the fungus. Afghan farmers have been cultivating opium poppies for a considerable period of time. This allows them to distinguishing between natural causes and artificially induced problems.

In their suspicion and accusation, Afghan farmers are likely to be ignored. The government lacks the necessary equipment to conduct proper research. The United Nations Drugs Office in Afghanistan is conducting research but the institution is no longer widely trusted. As with all other mysterious incidents in Afghanistan, this story too is likely to be lost and forgotten in the fog of war.

When the report of the fungus was first published, a reliable source directed the author of this article to the Sunshine Project, a now suspended non-profit organisation. In 2000, the international NGO had published a report about “dangerous US fungus experiments”, warning against the potentially harmful impact of the fungus on biodiversity in the target drug-producing regions.

The report said: “The strains of the fungi fusarium oxysporum and pleospora papveracae might infect and kill plants other than coca, poppy and cannabis in ecologically sensitive areas of Asia and the Americas.”

An indication of the potential risks caused by the use of such fungi, tailored to affect drug-producing plants, is the fact that their use was banned in the United States itself.

Further investigation into the fungi shows that their production and use is bordering on illegal. According to the Sunshine Project report, the US has created genetically modified strands of the fungus, and this, in turn, means that the product can be classified as a biological weapon.

Farmers in Afghanistan might regard the disease affecting their crops as artificially induced but they are probably unaware of the manner in which the crop samples were in all likelihood collected. To trace the probable route of sample collection leads us to a BBC Panorama programme entitled Britain’s Secret War on Drugs, broadcast in 2000.

The report takes us to Uzbekistan, to a Soviet laboratory that was set up to conduct research into biological weapons. The laboratory was abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union but resumed operation with funding provided by US and British governments. It was in this laboratory that pleospora papaveracea, the fungus that affects opium poppies, was discovered, becoming the Soviet Union’s first biological weapon.

Professor Abdulsattar, a scientist working at the laboratory, explained to the BBC Panorama reporter, Tom Mangold, that samples from Afghanistan were provided with help from the US embassy.

Scientists working on the fungus back in 2000 said that the fungus was safe, affecting opium poppies only and that it represented no danger to the environment and was unlikely to spread to other region. In a manner that is typical of scientists, it was pointed out that this assessment was to the best of scientific knowledge. A reasonable disclaimer but hardly reassuring. An interesting aspect of the fungus research is the fact that leading fungus researchers joined the UN’s Drugs Control Programme and their endorsement helped to ensure British and American governments’ funding of the project.

Research for a product bordering on illegality, funded with tax payer money from the United States and the United Kingdom, has led to the creation of a lethal weapon against opium poppy crops in Afghanistan.

Whether the fungus presently affecting the crops in Afghanistan is in fact pleospora papaveracea is far from clear. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Kabul is conducting sample research and has been unable to confirm the identity of the disease.

But farmers in Afghanistan are convinced that the disease has been artificially induced. They suspect that Kabul’s allies in London and Washington are involved. The loss of the crop will subject small farmers to financial hardship and the consequences will be felt by entire families. Young girls are likely to become the first victim of the situation as small farmers will not be able to pay their debts and will have to offer the family’s young girls for marriage in substitution for the missing cash.

The resentment felt among farmers is also likely to further drive them into the sphere of influence of the Taliban insurgents who present themselves as friends and protectors. Environmentalist activists in Afghanistan are equally likely to feel disenchanted as the contradictions between official policy of environmentalism advocated by London and Washington and the realities on the ground fail to make sense. If women’s rights groups in the US and the UK are outraged by the fact that young Afghan girls are traded for debt, the fact that their own governments might have implicitly supported policies that increase risks for young girls is even more puzzling to Afghan women activists on the ground.

Perhaps the most pertinent aspect of debates about the Afghan drugs trade is the lack of discussion of the other side: the consumer markets in the urban centres of the western world which have turned opium poppy into a lucrative cash crop in a country in persistent threat of famine. To discuss the Afghan drugs trade in isolation from the markets that it supplies is not only morally questionable, it is also a denial of the social problems that lead to addiction from Moscow, to Paris and London. The small farmers of Afghanistan may not be entirely innocent but they certainly are as vulnerable as the addicts they supply.

– Article from The Guardian.

Comments

22 Comments

  1. CanYouDigIt on

    We send so much food overseas I don;t give a fuck if these Afghan dirt farmers are losing their Heroin crops, and neither should anyone else. Send them some heritage seed crops and let them grow food. As though a little cash is going to do Afghanistan a lick of good in the next few years. Has anyone noticed there is a major war happening???

    After that diatribe, I suppose no one will want to hear this part..
    The use of biologics toi fight a battle places us all at risk. There is no suitable way to control their spread and no way to be sure they will not encounter some complex salt or chemical and rapidly evolve into a new even less natural form.

    However these claims seem spurious and whiny. Grain farmers in north ameica face serious threat from fungus when using organic farming methods. It is no different, perhaps worse even from the increased moisture content and relative humidity found in these crops versus say.. canadian grain. All efforts are being made o turn the local citizens against the NATO forces and any articles which do not make efforts to address this fact are as blind as the articles which only serve NATO interests.

  2. From Canada. YEAH! on

    That why so many counties hate the American government they get into shit’s that’s not there simply put!. I don’t believe in using opium for the high but i do believe in it as a plant that heals. LIKE CANNABIS. God Tell America to Fuck of. Peace out……High on cannabis cuz god said to smoke it. :)…After all isn’t that how to war started? Looking for shit that aint threres but it was so pose to be dangerous but that’s a different story.

  3. the other greg williams on

    in the 70’s when much of the cannabis consumed in America came from Mexico the usa government was spraying it with a deadly herbicide called, Paraquat”
    Our usa government officals said..” If people who smoke marijuana die it will teach others not to smoke it”

  4. the other greg williams on

    What acreepy man. I use to call his office and confront them on a weekly basis. People who scream the luodest about the ” corrupt” behavior of others are usually the most corrupt.
    Mike Pense is another. As is Dan Burton. These men are very dangerous antiAmerican / antiFreddom people .

    dbcooper
    sfca

  5. the other greg williams on

    i wonder when America or some other ” concerned” nation will wage an all out biological war against the deadly addictive tobacco crop that kills over 400,000 Americans per year ?

    Could you imgaine the outrage and demands of people if we woke up and read that Cannabis Killed 400,000 Americans last year> ? People would be demanding our immediate execution.

    I’m less afraid of terrorist and more afraid of fatcats and greed.

  6. Sean on

    Thats sad that our own government didn’t protect our own soldiers from our chemicals. Sorry that you protected our country just to be turned on by them. Have fun in Mexico and i may be down there soon you never know whats going to happen with this SHADY government of ours/

  7. ezrydn on

    Tiffany,

    I an an AO victim. I remember being sprayed while on operation. We were told, “It’s nothing.” Forty-five years later, I have just experienced my first TIA. I found I have Ischemic Heart Disease, which is a “presumptive” that is being added to the VA list of disabilities. More here: http://www.thefederalregister.com/d.p/2010-03-25-2010-6549 .

    After 13 months of battling with the enemy to stay alive, I find that 45 years later, my own government is responsible for trying to kill me. And people ask me WHY I moved to Mexico. It’s friggin’ safer here!!!

    Just had my 65th birthday and the best present I got was the story of Mark Souder resigning. What A Day!

    EZ

  8. Anonymous on

    The spy movie Good Sheppard about war shows the plane drop thousands of a specific type of grasshoppers over a field in the enemies territory that eat the whole thing. Is this a true act that this movie concept was based on? Bio Attack with bugs on food & drug crops!

  9. Tiffany on

    Yes—remember Agent Orange?
    The US has a long history of applying biocides to ecological environments.
    Tiffany

  10. Anonymous on

    i agree ,,,whut are we gunna have next a dictatorship… fukin nazis ,,, i believe they would do this fungus shit

  11. Anonymous on

    1) Pesticides are pesticides. They are the very antithesis of fungus (a ‘pest’). We also have a fairly big PR problem with the rest of the world in Canada for selling our stocks of some banned pesticides to developing countries though we know they are dangerous and, as you say, knock out a lot of stuff they aren’t intended to.

    2) The very idea behind a fungal outbreak in the context of monoculture is that you can expect that it will only affect one kind of crop if that is the only kind of crop that is particularly susceptible to the fungus in question.

    Basically, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility, I just sort of thought that this story lacked balance and, for that matter, any kind of evidence to support either position.

    Actually, I do love a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, part of me would be delighted if it turned out that this were an engineered threat since it would highlight the irresponsibile lengths the Americans are willing to go to in the context of their drug war.

  12. 10011 on

    What would the US do if the afghani somehow released a potato killing funghi in America? Maybe they say fast food kills and potatoes are used to make french fries.

    What a world.

  13. Jeff on

    “M” is actually right. Sure the country is in, and has been in “undesirable territory” for some time, but I believe he/she means that it is going yet further. It’s landing us in a time where freedom is a word unknown.

    As far as chemicals used to kill illegal crops, I think he’s referring to something a little more radical than what they’ve been doing. Thus “mutagen.”

    Why would you attack someone so well-spoken? We need people like M to speak out on the cause, even if he was a bit unclear. We’re all on the same side aren’t we?

  14. Anonymous on

    The idea that this is naturally occurring would be more believable if the government didn’t have a history of doing precisely the same thing in other countries. Remember paraquat sprayed on Mexican cannabis? We have also had serious PR issues with the Colombians because the herbicides we spray over their country not only kill coca, but the other flora and fauna as well as harming indigenous populations. Additionally, we are known for specifically targeting drug crops; if the fungus were affecting a few other crops, I would sooner believe it was natural.

  15. David762 on

    it is the War OF Drugs, used AGAINST people. Prohibition 2.0 was initiated as a means to subjugate undesirable minorities (Chinese and Mexican immigrants), but vastly expanded as a means to a far larger evil — the institution of a quasi-totalitarian police state.

    Coca, cannabis, opium poppies and a myriad of other herbal remedies are all nature’s gifts to be used as needed, and have been for tens of thousands of years. It has only been the modern Western pharmaceutical industry that has turned these into the potent scourge of humanity that the Powers That Be would have everyone believe that they are. A relatively short list of perhaps thirty or forty herbal remedies have been made illegal — to be replaced by hundreds of far deadlier patented inventions of man, and with great profit for the select few.

    While I do not endorse or encourage the abuse of any of these plants, I would prefer to see all of these gifts of nature re-legalized, as a matter of ending the War OF Drugs, the reinstitution of personal privacy and individual rights, and as a means of driving a stake through the heart of that evil vampire of crony capitalism known as BigPharma.

    As far as the issue (and accusation) raised by this article regarding what can only be described as a conspiracy to wage illegal biological warfare, I am inclined to credit these farmers with sufficient lore and knowledge about the history of their crops to find their claims credible. And it isn’t as if the Western powers have not engaged in other similarly nefarious deeds in the not so distant past.

  16. Anonymous on

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_%28Ireland%29

    I guess “They” (US Secret Agents) were responsible for the potato blight as well?

    Come on… this is basic stuff. Monoculture leads to serious crashes, for perfectly natural reasons.

    I guess the theory presented in this piece isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility, but aren’t there probably more likely reasons behind the spread of fungus?

  17. Anonymous on

    Heroin is deadly, alcohol is deadly, tobacco is deadly, all should be considered hard drugs, they kill and cause addiction with physical symptoms and brain damage, it can take a smoker 20 yrs to even think of quitting. I would say that 80% of all tobacco is not smoked, it is smoldering off the heater, 2nd hand smoke. SOme smokers take 4-5 drags off their cigarette and let it smolder for 5-8 minutes in their hand, mouth or ashtray!!!!,…. clouding the area with nasty fumes. Technically it is free money for government, no F’ing way smokers inhale what they pay for – $10 a pack, for 70 drags of tobacco!!!!! Missing out on 200-500 more inhalations, SMOKE YOUR SMOKES, DON’T LEt it burn away, your wasting your money & the air quality!!!!!!!!!! If a weed smoker did that with their spliff, it would be a waste and really pissed because they need to inhale as much of it as possible and like weed, you can re-cooperate easily after a large session of good bud, even after a long period of time, you will feel fine at a sudden stop of use. Government uses tax dollars from Alcohol & Tobacco so they don’t care if its deadly, they don’t want weed to take over because it is able to be grown and taken out of the market of collecting tax dollars, but they think everyone will grow their own, NOT, there ain’t enough time for everyone to do that so it will add tax dollars to the income if sold legally. They could generate a lot of tax dollars from selling the grow equipment and hydro bills at a slight increase will also help the tax money. THE GOVERNEMT WILL SCAM & WASTE THE TAX DOLLARS ON WAR ANYWAY!!!!!! If the government ever spread bio fungus to kill all cannabis plants i would join terrorists!!!!! Start saving all your seeds!!!!! Before your planet becomes a robotic death star sphere, which is what will happen in a few hundred years, it will be repaired like an old car! Hurtle the overflow of garbage into the sun!!!!! Which one is Darth VAder… BUsh?… maybe Obama, he matches the color! As for opium farmers, oh darn, another move by the government to stop Taliban’s income!! There is already 80 tonnes in the next ship that arrives so it won’t matter in USA for a while! If the junkies ran out of herion they would spasm for weeks, JUST imagine how haywire society would be if smoking was banned and they all lived one day without their smokes, Almost everyone would be chewing their nails to the bone and ripping their hair out of their heads!!

  18. The BallyHoo on

    Actually, the American government has been using fusarium for a long time in Peru and Columbia.etc…….

    The world, as you put it has been in undesirable territory for some time now……….

    Thanks for the update though…

    Peace………

  19. M on

    If the War on Drugs (or, rather, the War on SOME Drugs) doesn’t end soon, this will be the next step in the governments crusade to destroy our culture: Some type of mutagenic, easily spread, biological disease that specifically targets marijuana plants. The days of growing your own smoke are soon to be over. In fact, if the world continues as it is, the free choice, music loving, happy people called “Stoner’s” (although I much prefer “Cannabis Connoisseurs”) will be nothing but something out of a history book. Naught! Nothing! We’ll be wiped from the face of the globe. The average “citizen” will be government-trusting, mindless, ignorant individuals who will have a problem sitting due to the cysts encasing their asshole! This is why it’s now the time to act people! This is the time to push legalization full-force! The world is entering into undesirable territories, so get standing before your joints are too rusty to bear!

  20. Dave on

    Do you consider tobacco and alcohol hard drugs.

  21. Anonymous on

    That is our government. I lost all respect for government long ago.

  22. Anonymous on

    I am soooo against hard drugs but i think that it should be illegal to use Poisons and biological warfare to destroy illegal crops abroad and our environment.