What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Friday, April 20, 2007

What if Ug99 enters Afghanistan?

MStFB Wheat Rust Update The original report
The day before yesterday I have joined those warning about the dangers of the spread of wheat stem rust, citing reports about the appearance of the fungus strain Ug99 now having been confirmed in Yemen. Well, this source mentions unconfirmed reports that Ug99 may have arrived to Pakistan, too, already.
I'll briefly point to one of the potential consequences of a major outbreak. In the 1980s, in Afghanistan, it was the damage, both deliberate and unintended, done in the counterinsurgency war the Soviet Union was waging there, to the agricultural infrastructure - roads, irrigation systems and so on - that led to the cultivation of poppy gaining ground. Poppy is a lot less sensitive than wheat and thus survives in drier and generally less welcoming environments, too. And of course it's profitable.
In the 1980s there was a relatively large yellow rust epidemic (not the same plant ailment as the black rust or stem rust). That caused about $1 billion in damage on its way across the Middle East to India. Estimates of the potential damage for a black rust epidemic are currently at around $3 billion. Considering the scale, one can draw two logical conclusions. 1) The yellow rust epidemic, up till today a problem in some areas of Afghanistan, could have contributed to the spread of poppy cultivation back in the 1980s. 2) The stem or black rust epidemic could this time produce a large setback for poppy eradication efforts by hurting the most important target group: small farmers who are stuck in poppy cultivation because of their financial situation and their lack of means to provide for the possibility of cultivating more sensitive crops on their own without gaining income from the far more profitable poppy, the ultimate cash crop of the country.
In fact the harsher, voluntarist American approach to eradication, should there be major damage to wheat crops in Afghanistan from a black rust epidemic, could then become completely untenable.

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