The world’s largest supplier of hashish to the global market is currently undergoing dramatic changes to its traditional cannabis-farming industry, with both positive and negative results. So who are the pioneering cannabis farmers responsible for this evolution within the industry, and what is life like down on the farm? PRØHBTD went to the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco to find out.
We are driven to the farm in the middle of a blazing hot afternoon, along a mountain road that was built less than 10 years ago and has provided untold benefit to the people living within its catchment area. The road is adequate, but its hairpin turns and the heart-stopping cliffs it edges its way around—not to mention the breakneck speed that every driver in Morocco seems to insist on—make for a nail-bitingride, and we are relieved when we finally turn on to the narrow, scrubby dirt track that marks the boundary of Ali’s farm.
Ali is not the biggest cannabis farmer of the Rif, but he is far from the smallest. One claim he feels confident in making is that he is the biggest farmer of introduced commercial strains—his farm boasts 60,000 Amnesia Haze plants, along with 30,000 Matanuska and a good 10,000 more plants of varying heritage. He even has a small field of automatic Critical plants. It is clear that he is far from traditional in this respect; indeed, Ali is also unusual in utilizing modern organic fertilisers and vast irrigation systems to supplement the limited nutrients and moisture provided by the soil.
However, on the vast complex whose ownership is loosely distributed between Ali and his seven brothers, it is not only Dutch genetics that are grown. The family excels at land strategy and planning, and has set up their land to produce three harvests per year: one of new commercial varieties, one of the Pakistani-Afghani khardala that has been grown in Morocco for several decades and one of the traditional Moroccan beldia landrace.
In general terms, the first crop to be harvested is the indica-dominant khardala, which due to its Himalayan region of origin is adapted for a short growing period and an early harvest. Next comes the landrace beldia: the closely-related group of sativa-dominant varieties that have been cultivated for centuries in the Rif—yellowish, narrow-leaved and with long, thin flowers boasting a spicy, earthy aroma.
Last to be harvested are the slow-growing delicate varieties originally developed for indoor or greenhouse production in cool-temperate Europe and North America. It is these strains that require the most attention, both in the form of nutrients and extra water; both the beldia and khardala are well-adapted to life on the Rif, although some khardala crops are also supplemented with nutrients to get the most out of the crop.
As well as growing these new introduced varieties, Ali and his family have a few more innovative ideas up their sleeves. The family also collects the seeds from the Amnesia, Matanuska and Critical strains and sells them on to other farmers in the valley, and last year made five million dirhams (approximately half a million U.S. dollars) from this alone. They also make ice-o-lator (the form of water-extracted solventless concentrate that is most popular in Europe) from the commercial varieties, as well as dry-sift processed in the traditional manner (although the dry-sift differs from the beldia-made hash in fundamental ways, being much stickier for a start).
A final innovation that is of great interest to me is that of producing oil from the leftover and unneeded seeds of the beldia and khardala crops. This really is a new idea, and as I watch, the first batch to be produced on Ali’s farm is pressed before me, using a standard hydraulic press usually used to compress blocks of hash, repurposed for the job via the addition of several sheets of thick plastic parcel-taped to the metal framework.
His Italian seed specialist Riccardo (another innovation—Ali is also rare in having European contractors working with him on his farm, and he is exceptionally proud of this fact) explains in Spanish the correct technique with which to pump the handle—slow, steady, and gently—and within minutes, the first drops of golden oil can be seen oozing out of the press onto the plastic sheeting. I taste the oil—it is delicious—and rub a little into myskin, envisaging a range of skincare products with the mark of the Rif emblazoned onto their hemp-plastic packaging.
Although modernization is not without its costs (for example, the beldir is severely threatened by the encroachment of foreign genetics, and is becoming rarer in its original form with every passing season), it is clear that it is enabling a higher standard of living than many of the traditional beldir farmers of the Rif will ever enjoy. It is estimated that the average cannabis farmer in the Rif earns less than the overall average income in Morocco; thus, Ali and his family are clearly prospering greatly, and others are beginning to follow suit.
It is not clear what the future holds for the cannabis farmers of the Rif, but it is clear that the next few years will continue to see rapid change, and that farmers like Ali will be at the forefront of it. Needless to say, PRØHBTD will be there to document the story as it unfolds.