According to a report from the United Nations' Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) Monday, smallholder farmers in the southern African nation of Swaziland are ignoring efforts to suppress the marijuana crop because it provides cash income and medicine. Virtually surrounded by the country of South Africa, Swaziland is afflicted by extreme poverty and an AIDS infection rate estimated at 40% for adults, according to UN figures.
While police consistently raid and arrest small pot farmers, they are not making a dent in the trade, IRIN reported. Authorities had resorted to aerial eradication of marijuana, or "dagga" as it is known locally, but gave that up for budgetary reasons in 2002. Since then, manual eradication has been the responsibility of small teams of police officers, who are not making much headway.
"The interdiction of dagga and the eradication of crops continue as government policy, and there are arrests. But it hasn't dented cultivation much in the northern Hhohho region, or really cut into the supply going to the urban areas," a source with the Royal Swaziland Police Force told IRIN.
According to a study by Swaziland's Council on Alcohol, Drug and Tobacco Abuse, 70% of smallholder farmers in the Hhohho region grow marijuana as a cash crop. One Hhohho farmer told IRIN why.
"My father and his father grew dagga here; my son now knows how. We are far from markets, and the trucks from the marketing board are unreliable. The marketing board tells us to grow tomatoes and such for sale, but our harvests can rot in the sun waiting for them," said a farmer near the provincial capital, Pigg's Peak.
Two-thirds of Swazis live in poverty, according to the UN, and many live on rural Swazi Nation Land, where peasants cannot own their farms or find the capital for improvements like irrigation or better seed stock for licit crops. "I can get kicked off my land, and I can never do much, growing maize on our small plot, but I can always find a nook somewhere to grow dagga," a farmer told IRIN.
Dagga isn't just a cash crop, farmers said. They admitted to IRIN to supplying marijuana to the growing number of people suffering from AIDS in the country, a move that has been abetted by AIDS support groups, who say dagga encourages the appetite of AIDS sufferers. "Particularly when you are starting with the anti-retroviral drugs, your body can feel bad and you don't want to eat anything -- that is when people become thin," Eunice Simelane of Swazis for Positive Living told IRIN.