Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jul 2003
Source: Inter Press Service (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 IPS-Inter Press Service
Author: James Hall
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)
Bookmark: (Traffic)


MAPUTO, Jul 25 (IPS) - Drug interdiction efforts through the
coordinated programmes of police forces of the region are having mixed
results against small-landholder farmers who find marijuana
cultivation yields by far their most lucrative cash crop.

"Each of the 14-member states of the Southern African Development
Community (SADC) have participated in drug-busting efforts, both
through intelligence gathering and actual manpower provided by their
national police establishments," says assistant inspector Vusie Masuku
of the Swaziland Police Force.

A sketch of the drug routes through the African sub-continent finds
marijuana, or dagga as it is known locally, cultivated in eastern
South Africa, southern Mozambique and the mountain areas of Swaziland.
The crop is taken to Johannesburg for transshipment to Europe.

"Most of the people of the region do not purchase marijuana, because
they grow it themselves if they want it, despite the illegality,"
David Pritchard, president of the Council Against Drug and Alcohol
Abuse, told IPS. "The farmers' interest is export, and their
operations, such as the purchase of insecticide and irrigation
equipment, are financed by the South African drug lords who purchase
their crops."

A reverse trek out of South Africa and into neighbouring countries is
followed by processed or manufactured drugs, such as mandrax and
ecstasy. These are either produced in South Africa, or smuggled in
from Europe to meet the drug demands of South African consumers.
Shipments then go out to purchasers as far north as Zambia, a nation
which also imports its own drugs, according to Interpol.

Police sources tell IPS that Nigeria has a sophisticated drug
trafficking industry with global reach, which extends into Southern

Since 2000, Nigerian police officers say they have intercepted and
destroyed 300 kilogrammes of cocaine and heroine. They also destroyed
3000 hectares of cannabis plantation and persecuted and jailed over
2000 persons.

"Perhaps the only 'advantage' to the endemic poverty of the region is
that young people do not have the disposable income to buy drugs,"
says Pritchard.

More than 350 million people, over 50 percent of Africa's population,
live below the poverty line of one U.S. dollar a day, according to the
World Bank.

But a growing population of middle-class youth seeks to imitate the
dance club recreational drug use of their developed world
counterparts, just as they emulate music and fashion trends.

Last year, police interdiction efforts eradicated 50 percent of
Swaziland's marijuana crop, according to inspector Masuku. "This had
to have had an effect on the streets of Johannesburg, where the dagga
from Swaziland's mountains is called 'Swazi gold'," Pritchard says.

Swaziland's marijuana, prized for its potency, is valued in the
Netherlands, where it has been shipped in block form via South Africa.

Last week in Swaziland, two drug dealers were killed in a dispute
amongst marijuana traffickers. Such violence is rare in the country,
and may signal tension among traffickers as the illegal drug business
expands or contracts.

Last year's contraction of marijuana shipments out of Swaziland were
due to extensive search and destroy missions carried out jointly by
the police of South Africa, where the drug was destined, and Swazi
police. A new road system through the mountainous northern Hhohho
region has opened up areas where farms growing illicit crops were
previously inaccessible.

"It turns out that the search and destroy missions were only partly
responsible for the drop in marijuana shipments. It seemed that market
forces had just a big influence on the dagga business," a police
source told IPS.

For years, the cultivation and shipment of marijuana had been the
same, whether the crop originated from Mozambique or South Africa's
Mpumalanga province. Farmers' dagga harvests were bundled together,
and compressed into blocks the size of bricks for easier transport.

"Every marijuana farmer had a compression machine at his place. These
would be our tip off that a dagga stash was somewhere about," the
police source said.

But European buyers no longer fancy marijuana in its original weedy
state, which can be rolled into cigarettes for smoking. Rather, the
demand now is for "chocolate", a thick brown resin that is distilled
from the plant.

Extracting machines needed to produce "chocolate" are not usually
obtainable by poor peasant farmers, and are not provided by drug lords
who finance their operations. As a result, unsold stashes of marijuana
are being found by regional police in record amounts. They are
customarily burnt, with samples retained as evidence in court trials.

"The demand for marijuana resin appears to be customer-driven, but it
also assists drug lords who don't have to worry about shipping large
amounts of bulk marijuana," the police source said.

However, the need to cultivate marijuana to produce "chocolate"

Many small landholding farmers argue that it is their right to grow
marijuana, because the plant was smoked for centuries locally. The
"cultural" argument does not sway law-enforcers, who see no need to
toy with drug laws dating from the colonial era.

"All SADC countries have signed anti-drug protocols, and these oblige
them to stop drug trafficking in their nations, and cooperate with
regional efforts to do the same," says inspector Masuku.

Efforts to convince farmers to plant hemp, a species of marijuana used
in rope and clothes fibre manufacturing, awaits the development of an
industry that can effectively turn the raw material into marketable

Agricultural ministries also urge marijuana farmers to plant legal
crops that can also be exported for cash, such as vegetables. But as
long as marijuana can be grown for greater profit, the estimated 70
percent of farmers in Swaziland's Hhohho district who cultivate the
drug say they are in no hurry to change crops.

The problem is not confined to Africa. An estimated 200 million people
worldwide use illicit drugs, which translate into 4.7 percent of the
global population aged over 14, according to the UN Office on Drugs
and Crime. 
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin