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Afghanistan Drug Control - Eradication

Poppy production in Afghanistan grew to an all time high in 2013 despite the United States spending some $7 billion in eradication efforts over the previous 10 years. An October 2014 report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said Afghan farmers grew 209,000 hectares of poppies in 2013, surpassing the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007. It said one reason for the increase was more affordable deep-well technology that has allowed farmers to turn some 200,000 hectares of desert in southwestern Afghanistan into arable land over the past 10 years.

The drug eradication program has been run without adequate aid, aid workers, and Afghan government support to provide alternative income. In 2007, total effective eradication, including governor-led and AEF-led efforts, amounted to 19,047 hectares which is equal 10 percent of the total opium poppy cultivation. By 2008 was that many Afghans were dependent on growing opium, confronting the threat of eradication without adequate options. This has driven opium cultivation into Taliban-controlled areas in southern Afghanistan, effectively funding the insurgency. Corruption and violence continue to hinder the eradication process.

Several factors complicated the eradication process. First, corruption is believed to have hindered the eradication process with some eradication focal points using the opportunity to try to extract money from farmers in exchange for sparing their field. Equally challenging, some eradication focal points experienced violence directed toward themselves. In total, 16 security incidents resulting in 15 police fatalities and 31 injuries and 10 tractor burnings were reported during the 2007 eradication campaign. The security situation was particularly problematic in southern and western provinces.

The Paris Pact is an international partnership to combat traffic in and abuse of Afghan opiates. At the first Ministerial Conference on Drug Routes from Central Asia to Europe held in Paris in May 2003, more than 60 countries and international organizations agreed to join forces in order to limit the flow of opiates from Afghanistan to and through all countries along the smuggling routes. At the second Ministerial Conference on Drug Trafficking Routes from Afghanistan held in Moscow in June 2006 partners reiterated the need for enhanced and coordinated counter narcotics action to reduce opiates trafficking, consumption and related health problems in the region. UNODC is leading the follow-up to these Ministerial Conferences through the Paris Pact Initiative, a project that facilitates periodical consultations at the expert and policy level and also aims to strengthen data collection and analytical capacities in and around Afghanistan. This project also provides partners with the use of a secure, automated internet-based tool for the coordination of technical assistance in the field of counter narcotics.


A mycoherbicide is a pathogenic fungus applied to vegetation in order to infect a specific host plant and slow or stop its growth. The approach is described as the intentional deployment of a disease that naturally occurs in the local environment.

The use of mycoherbicides, or fungal herbicides, has been discussed for controlling poppy growth in Afghanistan. Mycoherbicides utilize naturally occurring microbial enemies of the coca, opium poppy, and marijuana plant that cause the crop to wilt. ONDCP stated in its March 1, 1999 report to Congress that mycoherbicides could become a critical tool in controlling coca and poppy production abroad and marijuana cultivation within the United States. ONDCP transferred $4.5 million in fiscal year 1999 to the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agriculture Research Service to support studies dealing with biocontrol alternatives to herbicidal eradication. These funds, along with nearly $23 million Congress provided through the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement for use on bio-control of narcotics crops in fiscal year 1999, represent a significant investment in the future of illicit crop eradication. Opium poppy-specific mycoherbicide has been developed with UN, UK, and US support at the Institute of Genetics and Experimental Biology, a former Soviet biological warfare facilityin Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Dendryphion penicillatum and Pleospora papaveracea fungi have been investigated as potential mycoherbicides to control the narcotic opium poppy plant. P. papaveracea is known to be a highly destructive seedborne pathogen of Papaver somniferum, causing seedling blight, leaf blight, crown rot, and capsule rot.

Single conidia and ascospores were isolated and cultures established from naturally infested seed and diseased foliage and pods of opium poppy from Iran, Colombia, Venezuela, Sweden, India, and the United States (Maryland and Washington). Mycelia and conidia of P. papaveracea and D. penicillatum produced on necrotic leaf tissues appear morphologically similar, and the fungi were previously considered to be anamorph and teleomorph. However, no anamorph/teleomorph connection could be established, and the fungi appear to be distinct taxa. P. papaveracea produced conidia, mature pseudothecia, and chlamydospores in vitro and on infected stems. D. penicillatum produced conidia, microsclerotia, and macronematous conidiophores.

Although both fungi were pathogenic to three poppy cultivars, conidial inoculum from P. papaveracea cultures was more virulent than conidial inoculum from D. penicillatum. Eight-week-old plants became necrotic and died 8 days after inoculation with a conidial suspension of P. papaveracea at 2 x 10(5) spores per ml. Disease severity was significantly enhanced by inoculum formulations that contained corn oil, by higher conidial inoculum concentrations, and by increased wetness periods. Symptoms on plants inoculated with either pathogen included leaf and stem necrosis, stem girdling, stunting, necrotic leaf spots, and foliar and pod blight. Inoculated seedlings exhibited wire stem, damping-off, and root rot. Conidia, and less frequently pseudothecia, of P. papaveracea and conidia of D. penicillatum were produced abundantly on inoculated, necrotic foliage, pods, and seedlings. Cultures from conidia or ascospores reisolated from these tissues consistently produced fungi whose morphologies were typical of the fungus from which the inoculum was derived.

On 23 August 2000, the Clinton Administration stated that "With respect to mycoherbicides, we have made clear that the United States will not support the use of mycoherbicides against the Colombian coca crop unless three conditions have been met: first, a rigorous, carefully supervised research and test program in Colombia determines that mycoherbicides are safe, effective, and superior to existing chemical eradication methods; second, a broader national security assessment, including consideration of the potential impact on biological weapons proliferation and terrorism, provides a solid foundation for concluding that the use of this particular drug control tool is in our national interest; and, third, the Colombian Government agrees with proceeding with the mycoherbicide program."

In 2003, Rand Beers, one of the mycoherbicide program's stalwart supporters, left the State Department's INL to work on the Kerry campaign. According to a US Department of Agriculture official, "The Department of Agriculture, as an agency, is opposed to the idea [of using mycoherbicides in Afghanistan]: The science is far from complete;There are real environmental and possible human health negative implications; There arevery real image problems... the use of any agent like this would be portrayed as biological warfare." USDA response to CRS inquiry, Oct. 19, 2004. On Dec. 29, 2006, then President George W. Bush signed Public Law 109/469, of which Section 1111 requires the Office of National Drug Control Policy to conduct an efficacy study of mycoherbicides' use on the opium poppy and coca shrub. Yet the one-year study was never conducted.

On February 7, 2007, Republican Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Mike Pence (R-IN), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) wrote to Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Gates requesting that mycoherbicide research be "fast-tracked" so that the fungi could be used in Afghanistan soon.

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Page last modified: 22-10-2014 19:34:51 ZULU