Fungus Sends Afghan Poppy Crop Up in Smoke

afghan poppy field photo

Image credit: isafmedia/Flickr

The poppy fields of Afghanistan are responsible for 92 percent of the world's opium supply and, thanks to a fungal infection that is raging through the region's crop, this supply might be smaller this year than usual.

The fungus—which attacks the root of the plant, travels up the stem, and makes the opium capsule wither—is thought to have affected half the country's crop and could reduce the harvest by a quarter.Though poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has become less widespread—occurring in only five provinces compared to 34 five years ago—it has become more productive. The amount of opium produced by one hectare of land has almost doubled in the same five year time period.

afghan poppy farmers photo

Image credit: isafmedia/Flickr

This fungus, then, may represent the end of a long string of optimal growing seasons.

Some farmers, however, believe that NATO troops may be responsible for the outbreak. Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said there was no reason to believe such theories, adding that the poppies have seen periodic outbreaks and infections in the past.

poppy field in flanders photo

Image credit: _Skender_/Flickr

The outbreak, Costa commented, does provide an opportunity for the global community to encourage farmers to plant alternatives to the poppy fields.

In the mean time, the price of opium is expected to rise by as much as 50 percent—a trend that could help insurgent groups like that Taliban that have large stockpiles of opium.

Read more about poppies:
Seeds of Hope in Afghanistan: 25,000-Specimen Herbarium Restored at Kabul University
Tasmanian Poppy Seeds to Become Biodiesel
Climate Change Could Extinguish Two-Thirds of California's Plant Species

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