- The demand for cannabis in Europe is driving more farmers in Morocco to cultivate the plant at the expense of legal crops, resulting in a growing industry now worth about US$ 12 billion, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today. Local cultivators however gain little from the business.
The first ever cannabis cultivation survey in Morocco, conducted by the government and UNODC, confirms the country's role as the main producer of cannabis resin, or hashish.
During the last thirty years, the combined effect of three main historical factors had turned the Rif region, in Northern Morocco, "into an important centre of cannabis production," the UNDOC survey says. These were the ancient, but originally limited, presence of cannabis; the inaccessibility of the poorly developed region and; "the spectacular expansion" of cannabis consumption in the European countries.
The survey found that the hashish industry stemming from the Rif Mountain region was surprisingly big. "A quarter of the agricultural land in the Rif region is now occupied by an expanding cannabis cultivation," the report found. Further, half of the low annual income of 800,000 people, or two-thirds of the rural population in that region, is now dependent on this activity.
The industry however has its negative impact on the region. "A fragile ecosystem is, and more so every year, threatened by deforestation and soil erosion," the survey found.
Turning to the revenues, an annual market of euro 10 billion is "in the hands of the trafficking networks operating mostly in Europe," not in the hands of the cultivators. Farmers only raise total revenues of euro 200 million from this production, the survey found.
Announcing the results of this Morocco Cannabis Survey 2003 in Rabat today, UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned of the global dimensions of Morocco's cannabis production, the international crime it generates, and the health risks posed to those who consume it. Moroccan cannabis contains up to 20 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active hallucinate ingredient of hashish, considered dangerous.
According to the survey, raw cannabis production this year in Morocco is estimated at 47,000 tons, while the potential hashish production reached 3,080 tons. Both are mainly supplied to the European markets; only a small portion goes to the domestic market.
The increased cannabis cultivation is considered detrimental to other agricultural activities, the report's editors say. "The ecosystem is endangered because farmers make extensive use of fertilisers and overexploit the soil." In addition forested areas were destroyed every year to accommodate new cannabis fields, thus accelerating soil erosion.
- Morocco has acted with courage and exposed the extent of domestic cannabis cultivation, but the question must be addressed blending demand and supply measures, Mr Costa said. "It is Europe's turn to focus especially on preventive measures, reducing cannabis consumption among the youth," he added.
Cannabis production in Morocco, as elsewhere in the world, is to a large extent market-driven activity, UNODC said. As long as the demand and the prices are so high in Europe, cultivators in the Rif Mountains would continue to grow cannabis in stead of food crops. For the Moroccan government, this illicit cultivation and trade doesn't create any revenues or development potentials.
- The Moroccan government is the first concerned, Mr Costa said, who also praised "the determination and spirit of transparency shown by the Moroccan authorities" during the survey. For Morocco, the cannabis production threatened the environment of the Rif, risked to corrupt its social and economic structure and compromised any prospects of sustainable development there, Mr Costa concluded.
Driss Benhima, General Director of the Agency for the Promotion and the Economic and Social Development of the Rif region, commented that cannabis production indeed was a problem. "Our country is afflicted by an activity which is detrimental to its development and whose factors of expansion are largely out of its control," said Mr Benhima, asking for international cooperation to fight the problem.
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