Published: Tuesday 15 August 2000

A powerful bio-logical herbicide may be produced by Colombia to curb the growth of coca and heroin-poppy fields. Colombian officials are submitting a proposal to the United Nations that would include testing for the presence of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum in the country's coca fields.

Colombia has reluctantly agreed to do so after pressure from the United States. According to a Republican, a funding of us $3 billion is being given to Colombia, on the expectation that it would agree to explore the use of F oxysporum found in the country's coca field.

If the fungus is found in Colombian varieties of coca, the country's scientist would go on to evaluate its effectiveness, safety and environmental impact, before deciding whether to produce the herbicide or not.
But environmentalists and other activists in both the countries have raised objections regarding the field tests of the fungus, saying that it might upset Colombia's ecology or endanger food crops, farmers and animals. "If Foxysporum is not there in our fields, we will not study it," says Mayr, the Colombian environment minister.

Foxysporum was first identified as a possible weapon in the drug fight by a us scientist in the early 1980s. Thereafter, the United States Agriculture Department began more extensive research into its use in 1988 and clandestinely continued doing do for nearly a decade.

Proponents of the fungus, however, say that it may prove to be much less damaging to the environment than chemical herbicides, which are being used to fumigate drug fields.

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