Swazi Gold: the lucrative Marijuana farming in Swaziland
Swaziland is a landlocked country sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique. Despite Swaziland’s small size, it boasts more hectares of land dedicated to growing Cannabis than all of India. It is also home to Swazi Gold, the legendary sativa strain. The relatively easy money of marijuana cultivation is enticing more unemployed and poor people, despite the fact that it is illegal. It is mostly used to support the immediate needs of households, particularly in remote areas of the country where access to services is difficult and expensive, and where markets for other cash crops are far away. It is illegal to grow and sell cannabis, but the growing global demand determines that the earnings from supplying cannabis outweigh the risks of doing so. As a result, during the past decade, Swaziland has increasingly become the leading global suppliers of cannabis or ‘Swazi gold’. Of the cannabis that is harvested, the best quality is earmarked for compression into one or two kilogram blocks that are smuggled via South Africa and Mozambique to Europe and the UK. Swazi marijuana, which is said to be more potent due to the soil and weather conditions, fetches a handsome premium.
According to Swaziland’s Council Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse, about 70 percent of small farmers in the Hhohho region, where mountainous terrain makes growing maize tough, turn to dagga. The world’s top law enforcement agency, Interpol, says Southern Africa, including Swaziland, has the potential to overtake key dagga producers like Morocco, and already sends major shipments to the west. In 2005 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that the global illegal trade in cannabis was worth $142bn and listed Swaziland as one of the major producers in southern and eastern Africa.
For Swazi farmers, marijuana, or “dagga,” as it is commonly known in southern Africa, is a crop worth growing, despite police raids and herbicide spraying. Smugglers will pay farmers about $150 a kilogram (2.2 pounds), a significant amount in a country where the average annual income hovers around $1500. It has been reported that several Drug Lords from Nigeria and Columbia have jointly invested in large pieces of lands and weapons to grow marijuana. It is estimated that their growing capacity is around 500,000 tons. Drug dealers, who finance marijuana cultivation by giving the farmers seed money to grow the illegal crop and then purchase the weed at maturity, have never encountered difficulties getting the product to market. Swazi marijuana is shipped through South Africa, where it finds its way to Hillbrow and other Johannesburg neighbourhoods, en route to Europe, particularly the Netherlands, where “Swazi gold” is valued by connoisseurs for its alleged combination of mellow taste and powerful intoxicating effect.
New Delhi Times exclusively spoke to a farmer who is employed by this cartel which is known as the RED DOOR or PUERTO ROJA, it is an umbrella group which is controlling the smaller groups in Swaziland. The farmer told that low remuneration for traditional crops like maize forced them to enter into marijuana cultivation. The farmer in question said: “You cannot get money for maize, but if I produce marijuana, I am sure that some buyer will definitely approach me”
Close co-operation between the Royal Swazi Police and the South African Police have led to frequent attempts to curtail the cultivation of the crop by way of aerial spraying with the help of South African helicopters. However, even with South African assistance the joint operations appear not to have made much of an impact. The Commissioner of the Police in Swaziland has acknowledged that the repeated destruction of large fields of cannabis plants has not produced any concrete results.