Afghan Farmers Blame NATO For Opium Poppies Fungus

The opium poppy crops in Afghanistan have become affected by a mysterious fungus, which is said to have infected as much as 50 percent of the country’s poppy crops. Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world’s opium, which is processed to produce heroin. Afghanistan’s economy is built on the opium trade, which provide a meager subsistence for the farmers, and large amount of cash to the war lords, corrupt government officials and the Taliban insurgency.

Farmers in Southern Afghanistan told the BBC they observed a white substance on their crops, and also reported damage to other crops, such as wheat, and their livestock. Some described the fungus as “aerial spay”.

“It has affected my wheat cultivation and my chickens and other animals as well. The powder sprayed has a white color, and I think it is a chemical. If you squeeze it in your hand, water comes out of it,” Haji Mohammad, a farmer in Nawzad, told the BBC.

However, Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the United Nations office on drugs and crimes strongly denied that NATO troops are responsible for the outbreak of fungus. The fungus, according to Costa, starts its process by attacking the root of the plant, then goes up the stem and finally kills the opium capsule. The fungus has affected opium poppies in Helmand province and near Kandahar, which are the main areas of opium cultivation, and the center of the Taliban insurgency.

Mr. Costa, in an interview with the BBC, suggested that the Afghan farmers’ claims regarding an involvement from NATO in the opium poppies fungus were more or less conspiracy theories.

“I don’t see any reasons to believe something of that sort. Opium plants have been affected in Afghanistan on a periodic basis,” Costa told the BBC.

Mr. Costa thinks it is an “opportunity for the international community to bring in support to try to persuade farmers to turn away from planting opium”.

However, the opium crop is, at large, the only valuable cash crop for Afghan farmers. Even if the fungus is a natural process and not “NATO made” like Afghan farmers claim, it could ultimately result in more Afghan farmers joining the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban are believed to be sitting on vast stockpiles of opium, which price will go up as the fungus spreads.


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