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.
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.
Morocco's hashish crop
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.
-- END --
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