Thursday, April 19, 2007

Coca or hash?

"Thousands of farmers are protesting against a toughening of the government's coca eradication drive.
President Alan Garcia has recently announced an open war against the production of cocaine, of which the coca leaf is the basic ingredient.
Peru is the second largest producer of cocaine, after Colombia.
In a few days' time, Mr Garcia will visit President Bush in Washington to try to ratify a free trade agreement which has been thrown into doubt by the Democrat-led congress."

I am in no position to discuss Coca production, Shining Path and Free Trade Agreements, but I can give you a story about Hashish in Lebanon, and you draw your own conclusions.

Hashish has been a traditional crop of the Bekaa since before Lebanese independence. It is well adapted to the Bekaa because it is a dryland crop (requires no irrigation), has no pests or diseases and needs little fertilization. The high altitude of the Bekaa (1000m and over) means that the UV load is higher, and that the THC content (the stoning ingredient) is high. But most importantly, Hashish does not have marketing problems, which, you will agree, is a significant boon. I mean this is a classic comparative advantage crop, meant primarily for export, in which the economy of scale is not important and neither is the capital investment, that uses local seeds, and gives jobs to men and women, rich and poor. The great equalizer. So why try so hard to replace it with sunflower (or other ludicrous replacement crops)?

Hashish continued to be a strong crop and to support the livelihoods of the Bekaa people until 1991, when a deal was struck between the Syrians (who oversaw and benefited from the trade) and the US. This was part of the great deal that followed the first Gulf war, and the US green light to Syria to oust Michel Aoun from Baabda.

As a compensation the UN started a five years "crop replacement program" worth 10 millions USD (if I remember well), which failed miserably. There are many reasons for that. One is the UNDP. The other is that it is stupid to expect to replace a crop that turns over billions of dollars every year with a couple of millions of dollars per year. These people have no sense of scale.

The Syrians kept their tight grip on the hashish growers, who became increasingly poor (and sad). This had serious impacts on children's education (schooling fees), standards of living, and...the state of the forests: in the absence of cash, people went back to logging the oak forests, and denuded them completely.

The people of the Bekaa kept planting Hash. The Syrian army would wait till the crop emerges then embark in a crop destruction campaign. Every now and then, when the relationship with the US would get tense, the Syrians would allow the crops to mature, and the world hash market would receive Red Lebanese (a bit like Beaujolais Nouveau). There were a couple of years like that in the Hariri era, when the farmers were floated back because the crops were harvested.

I'm not sure what the situation is going to be like this year. But the Bekaa people are getting increasingly restless. And the world hash market too.

Someone will need to tell me one day why the US is so adament on not letting the Lebanese plant hash when they allow it in some US states.

And why they turn a blind eye to Morocco, and give pharmaceutical licences to Turkey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good of you to raise an issue which is so taboo here.
Can someone explain why ........???
What is the problem here with hash.......

Everytime I interview someone in the Bekaa valley I cannot help but notice how happy everyone is....... even when they are facing such dire situations. Beirut gets wasted on vodka and prozac while Bekaa prefers the organic stuff.

What a tourist magnet Amsterdam has become....could be the same for Lebanon! Its so ironic thast that now you cannot buy Red Leb in Lebanon as it is all exported.