September 30, 2011

International Drug Policy: Lesotho Cannabis Business Sustains the World’s Poorest People

"Basically, it's a crop that can save the children of the poorest areas of the planet and the people perceive the crop as a positive one. They know it's a plant. They know it's not a poison. It's not a hard drug. They know that it's just a way to keep their families alive without harming the planet." Franco of Strain Hunters Africa Expedition speaking on the Economics of Cannabis in very poor regions of the World
Map of Lesotho

Lesotho Landscape
The population of Lesotho, Africa is approximately 1,800,000 situated in an area surrounded by South Africa only 11,720 square miles. Lesotho is listed as one of the poorest countries in the World and yet has a literacy rate of 85%, quite high comparatively on a continent where a formal education is a valued commodity and quite scarce.

In Lesotho, Cannabis is a hard money commodity supporting families on a seasonal basis making up as much as 28% of a single household's sustaining income. In this region of the World, choices are reduced to working in the minefields of South Africa, growing Cannabis and breeding livestock. Cannabis production income percentages decrease as a part of total family income when one or more family members work in the mines, meaning the poorest families are more dependent on growing and selling Cannabis to guarantee food on the table.

Lesotho Citizens Waiting to Vote
The government in Lesotho is considered a Constitutional Monarchy, a cross between royal family rule and a parliament elected by the people. Local Officials and Police realize in this rural community the population’s ability to vote out unpopular elected officials. For this reason and a general lack of the resources necessary to target and prosecute Cannabis Farmers, residents here have been able to grow and sell Cannabis as a way to sustain their families unhindered for many generations. Local officials recognize the plant’s value as a basic livelihood strategy for the economically challenged people of this part of the World and consider the trade a low priority with regards to arrests and prosecutions.

Archeologists have found evidence of Cannabis use dated as far back as the 15th Century signifying Cannabis as a deep part of the indigenous culture here for much of human history. Here, Cannabis is referred to as ‘metakoane’ in the native language of Sesotha.

Lesotho Farming Community
The region is mountainous, passable on foot or horseback. South African Cannabis traders hike to these remote villages and donkeys serve as the transport vehicle carrying the Cannabis out of the mountains at harvest. Some sources consider South Africa to be one of the leading producers of Cannabis in the World and Lesotho farmers have a lot to do with that reputation.

Lesotho’s main exportable natural resource is water, so in 1998 construction began on the massive World Bank funded Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The project was completed in 2004  and provides water to the Gautang region of South Africa and hydro-electric power to Lesotho. The project displaced many families and farmers needing miles of roads, tunnels and facilities to be built to accommodate large scale export operations.

Lesotho Highlands Water Project dam
The World Bank sent representatives to these mountain villages to let them know as the dams, roads and facilities were built, the area where they were located would be inundated with water at the completion of the project. A relocation plan was set forth and the people were given grain and monetary compensation for having to move. Some families went higher into the mountains and some went to more urban areas in search of work.

When the Cannabis Farmers complained the compensation offered was not comparable to the seasonal money received from growing Cannabis, the World Bank wanted to retract their offers for relocation help as Cannabis on the World market is an illicit crop. Local officials had to fight for these farmers and eventually won their case after civil unrest destroyed most of the infrastructure built in 1998.

Phase 1 of Lesotho Water Project
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project became an embarrassment to the World Bank very soon after relocation negotiations when a major bribery scandal came to the surface publicly. Masupha Sole, former head of the project accepted an estimated $2,000,000 in bribes from Corporations wanting to win the bid for the largest construction project on the African continent at the time and the second largest Hydroponic Power System to date.

The companies being accused, including large European construction firms ABB Ltd., a Swiss–Swedish Firm, Spie Batignolles of France, Impregilo of Italy, ED Zueblin of Germany, Acres International of Canada to name a few, settled in court and one company was disbarred from the World Bank bidding process permanently. All of this happened just after the World Bank’s 1997 Anti-Corruption campaign denouncing bribery as a form of business in projects backed by the international money lender.

Lesotho Farmer
Even though the project has been completed and relocation efforts have found closure, the War on Drugs rages on here in Lesotho.  Annette Hübschle, an ISS senior researcher for Organised Crime and Money Laundering reports on the region: “Cannabis eradication campaigns in Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa have been highly controversial and unsuccessful. The Agent Orange-type chemicals employed by the South African Police Service have led to the toxification of arable land and ground water. Subsistence farmers have moved their plantations to inaccessible land in the mountains. A divergence of legal and social morality is clearly discernible where local communities regard the cultivation of cannabis as necessary to survival thereby depriving the police of legitimacy and support from civil, political and social structures.”

In most parts of Africa drug related policies are being amended increasing monetary penalties and prison sentences for the production and transportation of Cannabis. Farmers in Lesotho have receded deeper into the mountains and continue to produce Cannabis for most of South Africa.
Lesotho Mother and Child
Lesotho is an excellent example of how Cannabis production can feed the poorest of the World’s people. Similar to other countries including parts of the United States, the people of Lesotho, including local law enforcement, recognize the plant for its economic and medicinal benefits and will therefore preserve the agricultural process in their country regardless of International Drug Policy.

This is the first in a series of informative articles examining the impacts of cannabis business in regards to livelihood diversification strategies adopted by individuals, families and collectively in communities worldwide brought to you by Cannabis Activist, Stephanie Bishop

Stephanie Bishop has worked with Doctors, Activists, Attorneys and Industry Professionals to help patients and the general public educate themselves about all aspects of the Cannabis plant. From every side of the movement, Stephanie brings news and trending conversation adding discussion topics and direct action to help people form a more in depth perception of prohibition.

Stephanie currently resides in Seattle WA and has worked locally with organizations like Seattle Hempfest, Americans for Safe Access and NORML to help spread the truth about the cannabis plant and the political battle to end the War on Drugs.