photo essay

Rolling Greens

The controversial cash crop of the Rif region in Northern Morocco

By JORDI PIZARRO | 1 January 2014

IN NOVEMBER 2013, it was reported that police had detained 12 people in the southern Spanish province of Málaga and in Ceuta, the country’s north-African enclave, on suspicion of smuggling. The group was said to have transported hashish from Morocco to the southern coast of Spain on boats, and then delivered the drugs to land on jet skis. Nine of the 12 suspects have since been jailed, while the other three await trial.

This was not a one-off incident. In 2012 alone, Spanish authorities seized 325.5 tonnes of hashish, most of it transported into the country by boat, constituting 74 percent of all the hashish seized in Europe that year. Spain’s proximity to Morocco and the difficulty of adequately patrolling its Mediterranean coastline makes it a natural port of entry for narcotics bound for the European market—this in turn makes Morocco an ideal source of hashish for the continent.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Morocco has over 47,000 hectares of land dedicated to cultivating cannabis and harvests about 40,000 tonnes of the crop every year, making it one of the world’s top producers. Kif, a refined form of cannabis that is processed to make hashish, is a significant component of Morocco’s economy: according to the Moroccan Network for the Industrial and Medicinal Use of Marijuana, the country’s cannabis trade generates $10 billion every year, accounting for about 10 percent of the economy.

Much of Morocco’s cannabis, and almost 42 percent of the world’s production, comes from the Rif region, where locals refer to cannabis as the ideal crop. The region’s rugged and steep slopes, poor soil, irregular rainfall and inadequate irrigation mean that most other crops require too much labour. “If you try to grow other crops here they will fail,” said Ahmed, a 55-year-old farmer, speaking to the website Middle East Online.

“It is a big source of livelihood for countless Moroccans,” Jordi Pizarro, the photographer of this series, said of drug trafficking. “The people cultivating this crop are those who don’t earn a lot, and they are everywhere in the aforesaid region.” Pizarro is a freelance photojournalist from Spain who is currently based in Delhi. The photographs in this series, originally part of an exhibition titled 14.4km—the width of the strait separating Morocco and Spain—tell a story “that wasn’t being told or spoken about”, Pizarro said. Natural lighting, embellished with controlled contrasts, allowed Pizarro to present the settings as they were, despite challenges such as fading daylight or the darkness of closed spaces.

Jordi Pizarro is a freelance photojournalist from Barcelona, who is now based in Delhi and represented by the Italian agency Contrasto. His work has been published in numerous magazines such as ForbesTIME and El Pais

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