SWAZILAND: The ongoing decline of Swaziland’s economy has left many people with no livelihood other than subsistence farming – including the growing of cannabis. But cultivation of “Swazi Gold” – as it’s known to weed enthusiasts – is still barely keeping households afloat.
By global standards, Swaziland’s marijuana cultivation is nowhere near the levels seen in major cultivation countries, such as Afghanistan, Morocco or even neighbouring South Africa. But according to Andreas Zeidler, regional spokesperson for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), although there are no official figures and the geographic area under cultivation is relatively small, the amount of marijuana being grown in the kingdom is “not insignificant in the region”.
While Swazi Gold is known globally for its high quality, most of it ends up on the domestic market and in South Africa where a small packet sells for US$2 on the streets. The real money is in export further afield – the best quality cannabis is often earmarked for compression into one or two kilogram blocks that are smuggled via South Africa and Mozambique to Europe.
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.
Maize production in the country has been declining steadily for the past decade, which has led to persistent food insecurity. But Swaziland has a climate and soil which allows for several harvests of cannabis per year. The government, however, is not considering legalizing marijuana and has not looked into whether cannabis, or hemp, has the potential to become an economically viable crop. Despite the large amounts of marijuana – ‘insangu’ in the Swazi language – produced, few of these farmers get rich off the business, as the wholesalers who transport the product to urban areas pay them a tiny fraction of the street value.
Andrew Dlamini, the 27-year-old nephew of marijuana farmer Clearance Dlamini, says no Swazi farmer has ever gotten rich from marijuana cultivation, no matter how much is grown. It is merely one way to earn cash in the impoverished mountainous areas. “It doesn’t pay to grow insangu for Swazis. You make more selling avocados, or even eggs,” he said.
For Gogo (“Granny”) Thwala, 75, cannabis cultivation is a matter of survival. Sale of the weed, which grows abundantly around her mud-and-stick house, means she can buy food for herself and the six grandchildren who live with her.
“I am too old to grow food. We did when my husband was alive and my children were here. Two of my three children passed on, and I look after their children. Two of them are too small to work the fields, and the other four are in school,” Thwala told IRIN.