Though big money is made in drug production, very little of it finds its way into the hands of the hemp farmers. After the harvest much of their time is taken up by the so-called hemp beating. Hashish production is still largely carried out by hand by the men here, the beating of the hemp providing the rhythmic background to summertime in the mountains. Two sticks are used to pound the dried flowers until they release a few grams of the resin crystals from which the hash is then pressed.

A raw plant of 100 kilograms will produce up to three kilograms of drugs, depending on quality. Just as in the traditional agriculture, women and children are also involved in the process. The hemp plantations are usually small, family-run businesses supplemented by a few local harvest and production workers. Traditionally, the farms in the region are passed down from father to son; a centuries-old practice that secures the livelihoods of Rif hemp farmers and their offspring. Nowadays, however, there are few among the younger generation who see much of a future in hemp farming. Their interest has turned to study as an escape route from the dead-end Rif.

Protesting the death of a fishmonger in Al-Hoceima (photo: dpa/picture-alliance)
"Welcome to the international climate summit! We crush people here!" – mass demonstration in Al-Hoceima following the death of a fishmonger: the town in the Rif region was at the heart of mass demonstrations which occurred during the Arab Spring in Morocco. People today continue to protest the high levels of unemployment and corruption, at the same time defending their region and the Berber identity

The hashish farmers have their fair share of problems – constantly forced to wrangle with others for their share of the scarce water resources, they are exploited by unscrupulous middlemen and live in constant fear of the police. Their crops are bought up in bulk on a weekly basis for just a few hundred euros. Sometimes there are police raids to contend with. And as if all that were not enough, they are liable to land in prison if they fail to come up with the money demanded to pay off corrupt officialdom. Only the big drug barons with their contacts to international cartels are able to afford such payments.

Drugs and terror

It is not only the drugs mafia who find the isolation of the Rif region useful. It has also become an appealing refuge for terrorists. For some time now there have been reports of drugs gangs and terrorists joining forces to form a joint cartel. Its network even extends to IS, which could enable them to link up with the cannabis trade and find recruits among the ranks of desperate young Rif Moroccans.

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