Crop spraying

A déjà vu debate

1 December 2007

The United States is putting strong pressure on the Afghan government to officially adopt the strategy of eradicating the opium poppy through aerial spraying of the crops with the herbicide glyphosate.

Given that this practice has been widely applied in Colombia, it is worth taking a look at other experiences of spraying and a more general look at the practice of eradicating crops as an anti-drugs measure.

What benefits have been reported following almost two decades of fumigation in Colombia? Year after year, the US government proclaims the ‘success’ of its anti-drugs policy. Year after year, statistics are produced that belie that proclamation.

For those who have closely followed the debates in Colombia over the past decade, current US pressure to introduce crop spraying in Afghanistan gives a painful sense of déjà vu. Particularly now, when lessons are beginning to be drawn in Colombia from the failure of the spraying and the damage it has caused. Yet the US administration wants to push Afghanistan into making the same mistake. Crop sprayings unleashed a vicious circle of human, social and environmental destruction in Colombia, and they will do the same in Afghanistan.



  • The long experience in the Andean countries with forced and aerial eradication with herbicides show that these measures do not achieve their objectives. Successful drug crop reduction must be done in a voluntary way, and only after alternative development programmes ensure a real source of income for the peasant farmers.
  • Following seven years of Plan Colombia, the US Congress is questioning the effectiveness of aerial spraying with herbicides. The US should not recommend to Afghanistan what its own legislators are increasingly daring to state was a failure.
  • Aerial spraying with herbicides is radically opposed to 'winning the hearts and minds' of the Afghan people. Implementation would benefit Taleban insurgency and deepen the division between the government and the population.
  • Instead of focusing drugs policy on the areas of cultivation, it would be more useful to push the fight against state corruption at all levels, and contribute to the consolidation of healthy judicial system. This would represent a more lasting deterrent on drug trafficking.
  • Rather then spraying hundreds of millions of dollars over the fields of Afghanistan, this money should be invested in effective sustainable development programmes, and strategies to attack the finances of drug trafficking.
  • The scientific committee called by the Afghan government should consider the trajectory of scientific controversy about the impact of the crop-spraying programme in Colombia on health and the environment, to avoid the same contradictions that have paralysed and politicized the debate for years.
  • The Afghan government should stick to its original, well-founded position of rejecting crop spraying. Repeating the same errors made by Colombia, under pressure from the US, will put the prospects for peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan into even greater peril.


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