The Moroccan harvest: Cash is the key to ending tradition of generation s

Business is booming, writes Elizabeth Nash, in the last part of her series on marijuana in Morocco

Rabat - Morocco's northern peoples look towards Europe, and many are resentful and suspicious of their southern compatriots. Dahilia they call them dismissively - "those from the interior". Their feelings derive from centuries of neglect and isolation and a fierce tradition of rebellion, and form a big obstacle to Rabat's aim of developing prosperous alternatives to the production of hashish.

Producing up to 3,000 tonnes of cannabis resin every year, Morocco is now the world's leading exporter of this illegal substance. Some 70 per cent of the cannabis entering Europe, including Britain, comes from Morocco, so it is hardly surprising that EU members are pressing Morocco to stamp out production, and looking for ways to help it to do so.

In coming weeks, hundreds of tonnes of this season's "Moroccan Black" will start its clandestine journey across the Mediterranean through Spain and the Netherlands, subdivided from dealer to dealer with a bigger markup at every step, to emerge for sale on the streets of London or Manchester at some pounds 2,000 per kilo - 50 times the price paid to small producers in the Rif mountains.

Under pressure from European governments, the Moroccan authorities are stepping up repressive measures against traffickers: last month they increased the maximum prison term from 10 to 30 years, with a maximum fine of 800,000 dirhams (pounds 5,500). More than 18,000 traffickers were seized last year, and 342 foreigners - including 40 Britons - are serving time in Moroccan jails for drugs offences.

The authorities insist they aim to eradicate production of kif, the cannabis plant, altogether, though they dare not infringe the Berbers' ancient tradition of cultivation for fear of revolt. They seek to promote alternative activities such as olive or apple production and eco-tourism, with the help of EU funds.

"Cannabis cultivation derives from poverty, and the problem must be solved in the framework of the overall development of the northern region," the director of Morocco's recently established Northern Development Agency, Hassan Amrani, said this week in Rabat.

"Repression is necessary, but we can't keep it up indefinitely. Our challenge is to find a long-term solution. We must offer an alternative activity for millions who live from kif production, and for that we need support from friendly countries and institutions like the EU."

Europe has committed more than 70 million ecu (pounds 47m) to improving roads and water supplies in the north, and additional support to encourage business, but results are not expected for years, perhaps decades. "We can't talk of a timescale," says Lucio Guerato, the European Commission's representative in Rabat. "How do you persuade people to break the traditions of generations? You have to offer them something guaranteeing long-term prosperity. It's horribly complicated."

Crucial to the success of the Northern Development Agency is the support of the people in the Rif, Mr Amrani says. "Our plan is participative, we work with local people and NGOs [Non-governmental organisations], women's groups and youth groups. The agency has good credibility among the people."

The laid-back days of the Sixties and Seventies, when Europe's hippies wandered through the Rif swathed in chilaba kaftans and puffing their kif pipes, have gone. Local fathers' initial surprised amusement swiftly gave way to the beady realisation that a limitless market existed for their traditional smoke. Within a decade, land devoted to kif had increased tenfold and now covers between 50,000 and 74,000 hectares. A trafficking network has sprung into shape that extends throughout Europe and brings an estimated $2bn (pounds 1.16bn) a year into Morocco. Moroccans insist that hashish mostly leaves the country in the hands of British, Dutch or Italian trafficking clans.

Tens of thousands of unfinished high-rise apartment blocks in the northern city of Tangier are thought to have been financed by drug-profits as a means of money laundering. A police investigator nicknamed "Lieutenant Colombo", sent to Tangier in 1992 to declare war on cannabis, detained dozens of suspects and seized tons of drugs, but lasted only months in his post.

Morocco has no law to combat money-laundering, and the authorities deny that it takes place. But US investigators suspect that a blind eye is being turned towards drug-smuggling. "Producers and large-scale traffickers continue to operate with virtual impunity due to budgetary constraints and widespread corruption," a US State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement said in a report in March 1996.

Some observers in Rabat say stamping out kif production, even with the best will in the world, is wishful thinking doomed to failure - especially with a quickening debate in Europe about possible decriminalisation of hashish. Some fear that improvements of infrastructure in the Rif could in the short term even help the traffickers. But international diplomatic sources say Rabat's latest effort to develop the north is the best so far, and they are prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks