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.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam