Pubdate: Thu, 30 May 2013
Source: Arab Times (Kuwait)
Copyright: 2013 Arab Times


ISSAGUEN, Morocco, May 29, (AFP): "If you try to grow other crops 
here they will fail," says Ahmed, surrounded by lush green fields of 
cannabis, the illegal plant he and thousands of other poor farmers in 
Morocco's Rif Mountains depend on.

The country's most notorious export has been cultivated in the 
traditionally rebellious northern region for centuries, where the 
climate for growing cannabis, or "kif", is considered ideal above an 
altitude of about 1,200 metres.

Along the stunning valley that runs between the towns of Taounate and 
Issaguen, women work in the fields tending this year's emerging crop, 
while young dealers ply the 70-kilometre (43-mile) road in their cars 
looking for customers.

But after a massive bust in Spain this month, the attention of 
European drug agencies is likely to focus again on the continent's 
main source of hashish - and on Moroccan efforts to stem the supply.

Spanish police found 32 tonnes of the drug in a truck carrying melons 
from Morocco at the end of April, and this month the same force 
discovered 52 tonnes at a warehouse in the southern Spanish city of 
Cordoba, setting a European record.


Also in April, Egypt said more than 20 tonnes of hashish from Morocco 
were found aboard a ship in the Mediterranean which a gang of 
Egyptians and Syrians had been trying to smuggle into the country.

Morocco's interior ministry insists it has spent heavily on 
tightening border controls and combatting trafficking, while 
deploying "enormous human and material resources" to eliminating 
cannabis cultivation.

And there are indications Morocco's once-unchallenged title as the 
world's number one producer is finally under threat, but only due to 
a rise in Afghan cultivation.

Its continued importance as a top hashish exporter is not, however, 
in doubt, despite Rabat's efforts to encourage farmers to diversify.

The International Narcotics Control Board said in its latest report, 
published in March, that 72 percent of cannabis resin seized by 
customs authorities worldwide in 2011 originated in the north African country.

"Implementing a policy of alternative development is the cornerstone 
of our strategy in the fight against the supply of drugs," the 
ministry said in an email to AFP.

But on the TaounateIssaguen road there are few signs other sources of 
livelihood are emerging, and Ahmed, the 55-year-old farmer, dismisses 
talk about the government pushing the region's farming community to 
quit the habit.

"There is no pressure on us to change."

"Kif is the only crop that can support my family, even though it's 
not enough, because at the end of the year we need credit," explains 
the father of eight, who says he earns 40,000 dirhams ($4,700; 3,600 
euros) per year.

According to figures cited by the interior ministry, an estimated 
90,000 households, or 760,000 Moroccans, depend on kif production, 
which is concentrated in the northern regions of Al-Hoceima, 
Chefchaouen and Ouazzane.


Aberrahmane Hamoudani, 64, a former mayor of Issaguen, or Ketama as 
it used to be known, is an ardent advocate of cannabis cultivation in 
the Rif, which he believes dates back to the time of the Phoenicians, 
who brought the seeds from the east.

"Kif doesn't kill you, but hunger does," he quips.

Noureddine Mediane, an MP with the Istiqlal party who has lobbied on 
behalf of the producers, told AFP 30 percent of those serving time in 
Moroccan jails are drug traffickers and cannabis farmers.

He called on the government to initiate an open dialogue on kif 
cultivation, "which is a reality, whether we like it or not."

"It is still there because it is a part of the culture of the people 
of the mountains. The farmers were born with kif. Their parents and 
grandparents grew it, as they have done for centuries."

"The majority of these peasant farmers can barely feed themselves for 
three to four months of the year. We know them and we know how they 
live. The people who profit are the traffickers, the exporters and 
the distributors," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom