I know next to nothing about the opium issue in Afghanistan, and I purposely avoid writing on the subject. However, it’s been hard to ignore for the last day or so as everybody is reporting on the fungus/blight taking out opium poppies in Afghanistan. For example, BBC reports:
A serious disease is affecting opium poppies in Afghanistan, Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has said. Mr Costa told the BBC that this year’s opium production could be reduced by a quarter, compared with last year. He said the disease – a fungus – is thought to have infected about half of the country’s poppy crop.
So who’s to blame? Nature? Excessive monoculture? Gretchen Peters? Let’s ignore the agriculture experts and go to the BBC view on the ground:
…farmers in Afghanistan are unsure about what is damaging their crops. Some believe Nato troops are responsible for the outbreak, but Mr Costa denied that this was the case. Farmer Haji Mohammad in Nawzad told the BBC that he had seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of opium he was able to harvest. He described the fungus as an “aerial spray.”
Inevitably locals will blame foreigners. However, the rest of the world’s agriculture suffers from fungus, pests, disease, blights, etc… on a regular basis without the assistance of NATO troops.
Of course, it doesn’t help perceptions at all that so many people in the West have called for poppy fields to be sprayed or plowed under. And guess what? There has been research on how to take out poppies. In fact, the research was done in our area of interest, in Uzbekistan. I remembered a BBC story from way, way, way back in the year 2000. It is still available, along with the ugly old BBC website layout. What say they?:
The UK and the US are funding research on a new biological weapon in an effort to destroy the heroin trade. The research, by former Soviet scientists in Uzbekistan, is being supervised by the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP). But there are doubts about the safety of the killer fungus they have developed…
That’s a rather large roll of tin foil for the tin-foil hats.
What about the effects in Afghanistan? As for the farmers, there’s not much they can do about it. But what about all those government-protected or Taliban-taxed drug traffickers? There will not be happy. And the opium money/tax that filters up/down/sideways (depending on how you view the structure of the opium business) to the government officials and Taliban? Will it be reduced? I lean towards the figures that say the corrupt officials get the lion’s share of the money. Perhaps they will hold off on buying a new wedding-cake house. Or maybe they will use the opportunity to act as brave defenders of Afghans and denounce foreign meddling (that they wouldn’t last a month in their offices without).
Many people have already pointed out that if production goes down there will be a rise in the price and then a (further) price jump after old stockpiles run out. So it works out, unless you are the guy whose fields were hit especially hard. Anyways, plenty of room for speculation and conspiracy theories. But I’ll take a wild guess and say that this fungus of unknown origins is miles from a silver bullet.