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Sunday, 13 August, 2000, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Morocco expects bumper hashish crop
Cannabis plant
Cannabis cultivation is a key source of income for Morocco
By Nick Pelham in the Rif Mountains

The illegal cannabis harvest has begun in northern Morocco with predictions that it will produce a bumper yield of hashish.

Cannabis harvest
Among world's largest producers
2,000 tonnes of hashish a year
Earns 25% of hard currency
30,000 - 180,000 ha of cannabis fields
Cannabis cultivation in Morocco produces some 2,000 tones of hashish a year, despite demands from the European Union (EU) for the government to stop it.

Farmers say the cannabis crop has been helped by late rains, which have ruined the harvest for other arable farmers.

They say the crop has also benefited from an easing in police interference since King Mohammed VI took office last year.

Official ambivalence

On farms across the Rif mountains, in northern Morocco, peasants are threshing leaves from the cannabis plant.

This year farmers have planted the crop as far north as Oued Laou on the Mediterranean coast.

King Mohammed VI
Morocco's new king presides over an easing of "drug war"
Drug trafficking in Morocco is illegal but remains a recognised source of income.

A study funded by the EU estimates that hashish exports account for a quarter of Morocco's hard currency earnings.

On the first tour of his reign, King Mohammed VI travelled through the cannabis heartland and pointedly did not criticise its cultivation.

Cannabis also attracts tourists from Europe. Tens of thousands follow the hippy trail through the mountains.

Hidden crop

The authorities admit the existence of 30,000 hectares of cannabis, but European diplomats say there could be six times as much, hidden behind the cover of maize.

Farmers say the cannabis crop has been helped by the late rains which has ruined the harvest for other arable farmers.

The Moroccan authorities are responding, however, to European demands to curb trafficking.

Two drugs barons were sentenced to prison on Thursday and last month Morocco announced its largest haul of hashish to date, 19 tonnes packed on a truck bound for Spain.

But drugs smuggling across the Straits of Gibraltar has proved no easier to curb than clandestine migration.

A Moroccan boat intercepted in Spanish waters last week was reportedly loaded not just with boat people but half a tonne of hashish.

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07 Aug 00 | African
Is Monarchy good news for Africa?
30 Jul 00 | Media reports
King Mohammed - one year on
20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Morocco
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