The international drug trade puts hundreds of millions of dollars in the coffers of global terrorists, which threatens the global community. Each year the US and other members of the G-8 summit spend hundreds of billions of dollars fighting the production of Opium in Afghanistan, yet this years poppy harvest will set records in that country. A “by-hand” approach to the elimination of Opium is very costly and ineffective, but that is how leaders of the anti-drug movement have chosen to fight the battle. Meanwhile, scientists struggle to find funding for the development of tiny, all-natural fungi that could make a real difference in the war on drugs.
"The fight against drugs is actually the fight for Afghanistan," stated the Afghani President, Hamid Karzai. When Karzai took office in 2002, he outlawed opium poppy cultivation. Yet, the revenues from the opium and heroin trade, according to the International Monetary Fund, account for at least half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Robert B. Charles has said that Afghanistan’s 2004 opium poppy harvest will soar to a world record of 120,000 hectares, providing 80 percent of the world’s heroin supply.
According to the most recent policy booklet of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the U.S. spends at least $160 billion a year fighting narcotics comparison, the Administration has requested $40.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security for FY 2005.
Assistant Secretary Charles draws a chilling comparison between drug use and the losses we suffered from terrorists on September 11, 2001. "Drugs are a very big national security issue. We lost 21,000 kids in this country last year to drugs—that’s seven Twin Towers. We are heavily involved and fully committed," he says. This commitment includes $310 million for the eradication of the opium poppies in Afghanistan. However, since the G-8 designated the UK to lead the counter narcotic efforts in Afghanistan, it is the UK that decides how to spend US taxpayer’s money. Its three-year eradication policy dictates the procedure be done "by hand." The UK contributes only $3.6 million out of a total of $130 million the G-8 has pledged to the overall initiative.
Furthermore, the British have entrusted the provincial governors with the eradication process even though Afghan provincial governors, many of whom are powerful warlords, have been engaged in the drug trade for decades. Considering Assistant Secretary Charles’ production projections, and it is clear that the UK-led counter narcotics effort in Afghanistan are failing miserably. Unless significant strategic and tactical changes are made, the next three years of the UK’s proposed campaign will possibly result in even higher yields of opium poppies.
By then, the narco-economy will be hopelessly entrenched, strengthening the power of tribal warlords, allowing them to wreak havoc with the rule of law. "This is a source of income for the warlords and regional factions to pay their soldiers," says Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalili. "The terrorists are funding their operations through illicit drug trade, so they are all interlinked."
Enter the use of mycoherbicides, which are naturally occurring fungi that attack and kill a specific plant. They are used to control such illicit pest-plants as the coca shrub, opium poppy and other noxious weeds. Unlike chemical controls, mycoherbicides assail only the targeted plant. They continue to live in the soil, thus preventing the future growth of the intended plant. Biochemists say mycoherbicides will not cause a plant to become extinct- rather, they will greatly reduce yield and render cultivation uneconomical.
Experiments with such biological agents have been going on for years, and recent scientific papers indicate that researchers are close to further breakthroughs in bio-control science. However, these researchers have expressed exasperation with the lack of government funds, preventing the conclusion of the studies, and therefore the use of this method to eradicate opium and coca plants.
The use of mycoherbicides in Afghanistan will mitigate the production of heroin and cocaine and cut off the terrorists’ major money supply, and will help keep the country from returning to a haven for terrorists and their leaders. The procedure may free up billions of dollars used to fight the opium and coca addiction and make those monies available to help to fight terrorism directly. It would also free up funds for an array of social and governmental reforms in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Ultimately, eradicating narcotics means eliminating the cost of fighting them not only in Afghanistan but also throughout the world.
—Rachel Ehrenfeld is the author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It, and director of the Manhattan-based American Center for Democracy.
—Walton Cook is the author of Buzzword.