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01/07/2007 01:00:00

Morocco aims to stamp out cannabis crops

RABAT (AFP) - Morocco, which has slashed cannabis cultivation by nearly
half over the past four years, hopes to eradicate the main remaining
area of cultivation in the northern Rif mountains by opening up the
region and introducing substitute crops.

The eradication programme encourages farmers to switch to other crops,
especially on fertile land where the growing of cannabis is a recent
development, he told AFP.

"In the ... (Rif mountain chain) we are centring our efforts on
non-agricultural infrastructure and activities such as rural tourism,"
he said.

"Opening these areas up plays an important role in reducing cannabis."

Production of cannabis resin, or hashish, which amounted to 3,070 tonnes
in 2003, has already dropped by 61 percent in the area, according to
Khalid Zerouali, a senior official at the interior ministry.

That mirrors the progress across the country. A 2003 inquiry sponsored
by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) using both
observations on the ground and satellite pictures put at 134,000
hectares (520 square miles) the area used to grow cannabis.

"This area has been cut to 72,500 hectares at present, a drop of 46
percent," Zerouali said.

Thursday in Tunis a Moroccan delegation presented the nation's
experience in the fight against drugs and the growing of cannabis as
"pioneering and exemplary" at a conference of heads of Arab anti-drug
services, according to the Map news agency.

Whereas in the period between 1999 and 2003, 31 percent of UNODC member
states cited Morocco as source of hashish seized in their countries, a
recent report put the figure for 2005 at only 20 percent.

According to the UNODC Africa accounts for 26 percent of world cannabis
production, behind the Americas (46 percent). The plant is grown in many
African countries, in particular South Africa, Nigeria and Morocco, the
UNODC says.

The quantities of the drug seized worldwide dropped in 2005, largely
because of "less production of this resin in Morocco."

Cannabis has been grown since the 15th century in the central Rif, a
mountainous and remote area. The 2003 inquiry highlighted the "major
economic dependence" on the plant of 96,000 families who relied heavily
on it for an income.

The farmers make relatively little money -- about 214 million dollars a
year -- while the turnover worldwide generated by the output reached 12
billion dollars in 2003, the UNODC inquiry found.

Morocco has since strengthened surveillance of areas under cultivation
and increased the number of drug seizures and prosecutions of
traffickers, who are sometimes in league with senior security officers.

"We have a roadmap and Morocco is treating this issue decisively and
seriously," Zerouali said.

"Morocco's collaboration with the UNODC, in particular in the major 2003
inquiry, the first of its kind, has enabled us to mark out the terrain
and act in total transparence."

Author: Yahoo News via UKCIA

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