The seizure in early February by the Moroccan Royal Gendarmerie of Temara of almost 12 tons of chira (cannabis resin) is a timely reminder of Morocco's ongoing struggle to eradicate the cannabis industry. The shipment onboard a truck on the A3 highway linking Rabat to Casablanca was discovered when traffic control officers searched a truck ostensibly carrying empty crates. It had travelled from Ksar Lekbir and was bound for Casablanca. Ibn Warraq looks at Morocco's struggle to eradicate the cannabis industry.
And the area under cultivation appears to be growing. Moroccan authorities say they share official EU worries about the expanding drug fields. This is nothing new. Back in 2001, the then head of the northern development authority, Hissam Amrani, said he would eradicate the crop within seven years.
Privately, however, officials say cannabis is a problem of Europe's own making.
"It is big business and big money. It is a question of supply and demand. And, anyway, how do you fight it, when you see so many European countries legalising the drug?" asked one senior official in Rabat.
Giles Tremlett, writing in The Guardian some years ago hit the nail on the head when he said that "having created a market by banning cannabis while also consuming it, Europe would ruin the local economy if it then legalised the drug".
The impact of the subsequent price drop would hit farmers badly. "That would be disaster for the north," admitted one EU official in Rabat.
A recent article on the Global Post website quotes Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, a research fellow at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris; “Eradication should not precede economic development or even accompany it,” he says “It should come afterward and only in case of necessity. Alternative development never had the expected success. It lacked political will, financial resources, persistence and it was flawly designed.”
|the area around Ketama|
To fully understand the problem, it is necessary to see just how well established the industry is in the region and comprehend the massive task of finding and establishing a different crop for the area.
“The eradication of cannabis production should not be the goal of development programs: It must be an indicator of their success ” - Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy
The knee-jerk reaction by some governments has been to offer money for Morocco to solve the problem. In the past United States donated $43 million to help farmers find new crops to replace hashish but throwing money at the problem was simplistic and never going to work. Since 2003, Morocco has received €28 million from the European Union to eradicate the cultivation of cannabis and signed several treaties pledging to do so.
According to Spanish agronomist, Pasqual Moreno, who is a European authority on kif cultivation and was director of the EU's "alternative cultivation" project in Chefchaouen, EU attempts to convert farmers to avocados or grapes have proved impractical. "These projects are there to please European public opinion," Mr Moreno said.
The issue is more complex than simply a drug problem. The amounts of money involved, the number of people dependant on the crop mean that the issue is primarily political. In the past the Rif region has been neglected and it was only with the advent of the King Mohammed VI, that attention to the north of Morocco made any real progress. The King has been responsible for the building of the massive container port Tangier-Med (see our story here) and another port one is in construction in the eastern city of Nador. This is intended to to make the north economically viable.
Yet, despite eradication programmes, and economic development the experts claim that all the strategies to date are is likely to fail in the long run as the Rif region suffers from extremely difficult climatic conditions and offers very little earning opportunities for its people.
But more needs to be done, says Chouvy. He says the solution centres on an effective regional and national development strategy that would promote the almost complete eradication of the production of cannabis over the next three decades. “The eradication of cannabis production should not be the goal of development programs: It must be an indicator of their success,” said Chouvy. “The farmers who make a living from it will eventually decide themselves to abandon an economic activity that isn’t profitable.”
|Drying cannabis - Photo: Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy|
Farmers in Bab Berred who survive solely on the cultivation of the crop told GlobalPost last May how dire the situation is for them. "This is everything I own: I use it to buy grains, wheat, oil, soap, school books, pay for electricity,” said Abdelouaret El Bohidi, a farmer, pointing to a bag of marijuana. “If they take this from me, I will lose my mind. I won’t have anything left to feed my children.”
The farmers said that so far, they haven’t found another way to survive. “We will cultivate something else if they give us the means to do it,” said Mohamed Amaghir, another farmer. “All we are asking for is a piece of bread and nothing else." There is an urgent need for new sources of survival, says Chouvy. “Eradication will only aggravate the underlying factors that lead farmers to produce such crops: poverty and hunger,” he said.
Long term, the answer is probably a mixture of approaches. Some Ketama residents think that more should be done to encourage tourism in the region and, while this has merit, others are quick to point out the lack of tourist infrastructure. In the meantime the authorities will continue to rely on seizures while the locals simply pray for a good crop.