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Issue 328

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New chemicals will not
stop narcotic crops

The US will distribute a toxic fungus over coca-producing regions in Colombia. As part of the 'war on drugs', large areas have already been sprayed with herbicides intended to destroy coca crops. Now the fungus Fusarium oxsporum EN-4 strain is to be used - causing alarm among scientists and health experts.

Word corner

Pakistan
The country of Pakistan was created in 1947, mainly from the Muslim parts of India. A Muslim student at Cambridge University invented the word Pakstan (later Pakistan) in the 1930s, from the initials of the words: Punjab, Afghan, Kashmir, Sind and the suffix of the word Balochistan.

The word has extra resonance, though, because Pak is the Persian word for 'pure' while stan is a common place-name suffix meaning 'country'.

The name Punjab derives from the Iranian for 'five rivers' (panj, five, and ab, water). The word Kashmir comes from the Sanskrit kasyapamara (land of the Hindu god Kasyapa).

Susan Watkin

Eduardo Posada, head of the Colombian Center For International Physics, says in a letter of opposition to the Colombian Minister of the Environment: 'The mortality rate for people infected by Fusarium is 76 per cent.' Jeremy Bigwood, an ethnobotanist, adds: 'To apply a myoherbicide (such as Fusarium) from the air that has been associated with a 76-per-cent kill rate in hospitalized human patients is tantamount to biological warfare.'

The US Government and Dr David Sands, who developed the EN-4 strain as a fungal plant-killer, continue to maintain that the fungus is not harmful to humans, animals or plants other than the intended target. But Sands can hardly be counted as unbiased: he is Vice-president of Ag/Bio Con Inc, the corporation that owns the EN-4 strain. Even Luis Parra, a herbicide expert monitoring the chemical spraying of coca fields, is opposed to the use of Fusarium: 'It is very different to apply a chemical herbicide (such as Roundup) that has a known, predictable and undeniable risk, than to apply Fusarium where the risks are unknown.'

Over the past decade, despite the massive effort to spray fields from the air with chemical herbicides, coca production in Colombia has expanded. The problem of drug trafficking was recently addressed at the Conference of Illicit Drug Crops and Environment. The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) presented a five-year plan to stop coca growing completely in one region of Colombia by supplying government aid that would allow farmers to plant alternative crops. The Government rejected the plan and the US refused to attend the conference.

'The solution is not fumigation,' says Raul Reyes, a spokesman for the FARC. 'Money is needed for social investment in order to begin plans to replace coca, poppy and marijuana with healthy products.'

International Action Center / www.iacenter.org

Cambodian treasure trove
As the last refuge of the Khmer Rouge, the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia were off-limits to most people until recently. Now the guerrillas have left, scientists have found a biological treasure trove in their wake. 'This is how the rest of Asia used to be,' says Jennifer Daltry, scientific co-ordinator of an exploration of the Cardamom range. She says the expedition chronicled seven previously unknown species of amphibians, a new snake specie, several small mammals and at least 800 new species of insects. Further expeditions will determine if the mountain range is also home to the rare Javan rhinoceros and the even rarer khiting vor, a half-sheep, half-antelope animal species popularly known as the 'snake-eating cow'.

Down to Earth Vol 8 No 24

Empty stomachs
Eighty per cent of the population has fallen below the poverty line in Venezuela - despite its abundant natural resources and position as South America's leading petroleum exporter. Crop yields have declined sharply and Venezuela's agricultural producers now meet only 35 per cent of the national food demand. The Food and Agriculture Organization lists the oil-rich nation as a net importer of food and has launched plans to help increase local agricultural production and reduce reliance on food imports.

Latin America Press Vol 32 No16

Mother mouse
Mice will soon be incubating the eggs of women who risk damaging their ovaries because of medical treatment, say Canadian scientists. Ariel Revel of Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital says this offers new hope to young women who become infertile after vital medical intervention such as cancer treatment. Many hospitals already freeze mature eggs from female patients but this can damage eggs and attempts to transplant ovarian tissue back into patients have failed. But it is hoped that freezing ovarian tissue and then grafting this on to the back muscles of mice will allow eggs to mature for nine weeks before being removed from the mouse, fertilized in a test tube and then planted in the mother's womb. Robert Casper from the University of Toronto says: 'There's absolutely no chance that mouse DNA could be mixed up with the human cells.'

New Scientist Vol 167 No 2245

Netting volunteers
NetAid has launched an online program where activist and development organizations can call for volunteers from any part of the world. Work these 'net volunteers' may undertake includes website design, translations, data processing and analysis, research, legal advice and mentoring. Provided the work can be completed and delivered via computers, it can be posted on NetAid's site.

For more information see: www.netaid.org

Cola capitulates to sacred cows
Pepsi has been forced to withdraw its billboard posters from hundreds of Mexican bullrings after an 18-month campaign by Steve Hindi and the organization Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK). Hindi gave videotapes showing bloodied bulls suffering alongside Pepsi billboards to Maneka Gandhi, India's Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment. Since cows are sacred, Gandhi says her threat to show the tapes on television would have 'written off nearly a billion potential Pepsi customers'. Hindi is now shifting the campaign to target Corona beer whose posters have replaced Pepsi's.

Earth Island Journal Vol 15 No

Pinochet in your purse
Supporters of Augusto Pinochet can now shop using Patrioticard, a credit card that promotes the former dictator and allows cardholders to receive a discount on purchases. 'It's an initiative for subscribers to the magazine Onda Expansiva - dedicated to defending the General's work - and pinochetistas in general, who can receive a series of discounts,' says Eduardo Arévalo, spokesperson for the September 11 Foundation, which released a list of stores and services honouring the Patrioticard. The foundation is named after the day Pinochet seized power in 1973 coup.

Latin America Press Vol 32 No 262

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Fetish priests are targets of campaign in Ghana.

Many in Ghana are calling for the abolition of trokosi, a traditional form of slavery. Trokosi literally means 'slave of a deity' and is a practice of the Ewe people. In its commonest form a trokosi is a virgin given to a fetish priest as a slave. A family becomes liable to provide trokosi for a priest when a member commits a crime or a calamity strikes the family, such as a sudden natural death. They must submit daughters to the shrine and meet the priest's conditions till the cessation of their misfortunes. She becomes a slave serving the priest - sometimes for a few years or possibly for her entire life.

Shrine servants - two trokosi either side of the rarer male version, a kluvi.
Photo: Samuel Wiafe

Trokosi must provide domestic chores, sexual services and work for the priests without any form of remuneration. Frequent punishment is a normal occurrence at the shrine and commonly includes denial of food and whipping with atam (the dried male organ of a bull or horse). Offences attracting punishment include refusal of sex, strife with other trokosi, leaving the shrine without permission, running away, lateness and entering a room without footwear by mistake.

Women living at the shrine are often overworked and malnourished. During the course of my visit to a shrine I was stopped by one of the trokosi and asked: 'Imagine a pregnant woman going to bed without food?' I was shocked and surprised to learn later that she was talking about her own hunger.

Though the Government and the Fetish Slaves Liberation Movement have been helping trokosi, campaigners against the system face unrelenting resistance. The influence of the traditionalists is so strong that many freed trokosi find life as social outcasts too difficult and end up returning to the shrine. The study I have conducted shows that out of 2,000 liberated between 1997 and 1999, 87 per cent had returned to the shrine of their own will (for fear of being victimized by the fetish priest's curse). Another ten per cent are finding it very difficult to cope with life outside the shrine. Due to fear and stigma associated with the trokosi system, they are unable to find husbands, are discriminated against in employment and have their goods boycotted. Only the remaining three per cent have been able to integrate back into society after leaving the shrine.

Samuel Wiafe

Guzzling gas from Tibet
The Chinese Government has begun the construction of a pipeline to deliver gas from Tibet to China. Companies BP Amoco, Enron and Agip are involved in the 953-kilometre pipeline which will pump natural gas from the Tsaidam Basin in northern Tibet to Lanzhou in northwest China. So far Tibetans have had no say over mining exploitation - around 20 million tonnes of Tibetan oil have been sent to China since 1989. Over the next five years, oil and gas production from the Tibetan Plateau is expected to increase dramatically.

Drillbits and Tailings Vol 5 No 10

Landless protest
Despite the provision under Argentina's constitution for transferring land to Indians, the indigenous Wichí are being left virtually landless. The local government of Salta has ignored indigenous land rights in favour of opening up the area with roads and highways, deforestation and cattle farms. Late last year six Wichí communities banded together and presented a bill to the National Congress to expropriate 2,900 hectares from absentee landowners. But since then the Salta provincial government has allowed further deforestation of this area. Survival is calling for letters of protest to be written to:

SE Fernando de la Rúa,
Presidente de la Republica,
Fax: +54 11 4344 3700 or +54 11 4344 3800

and
Dr Juan Carlos Romero,
Gobernador de la Provincia de Salta,
Fax: +54 387 436 0400.

For more information see: http://www.survival-international.org

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Big Bad World by Polyp
Big Bad World cartoon.

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