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Cannabis Cultivation Feeds a Hundred Thousand Families in Morocco

The Moroccan government reported June 24 that the country’s Rif Mountains region, long famous as a center for Moroccan hashish production, continues to live up to its reputation. While government officials emphasized estimates that the amount of land dedicated to cannabis cultivation had decreased slightly between 2003 and 2004, buried in the report was the fact that some 96,000 families are "dependent on cannabis cultivation" for a living.

Africa: 7/1/05 http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/393/morocco.shtml

supporting families: Morocco’s hashish crop The growing of cannabis to be processed into hashish and smuggled to the thriving markets of Western Europe is a mainstay of the Berber inhabitants of the Rif, a rugged chain of peaks running east and west just south of the Mediterranean coast. In 2003, following an agreement between Moroccan authorities and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the first aerial survey of cannabis production in the Rif took place. According to that survey, some 135,000 hectares were under production in 2003. Last year, production had declined to 120,000 hectares.

But that is still a lot of land devoted to pot plants — more than 465 square miles, to be precise. To put that in context, it is as if every square inch of metropolitan Denver (458 square miles), San Antonio (438), or Indianapolis (468) were devoted to lush fields of cannabis.

And it’s a good thing the Berbers of the Rif have their illicit cannabis crop or they would be largely reduced to penury. According to the Moroccan government’s cannabis cultivation estimates, cannabis takes up one-quarter of all cultivated land in the region and 12% of irrigated land. And as the government noted, "half of the low annual income or two-thirds of the rural population of the region" are dependent on the cannabis crop for an income.

The UNODC estimated that Rif cannabis farmers earned about $220 million, or about $2,300 per cannabis-growing family, in 2003. That compares favorably to the national annual average income of $1,320. Still, as the UNODC noted, farmers get only a small share of profits from the hash trade, whose total market value the agency estimated at $1.2 billion, with most of the profits going to smugglers and European wholesalers and retailers.

Moroccan government officials suggested that law enforcement pressure on hashish smuggling had led to the slight decline in cultivation last year, but they also acknowledged that repression will have only marginal impacts in the absence of alternative ways of earning a life for the hash farmers of the Rif.

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published Monday 11 July 2005 01:38

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