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In the 1960's Dr. Mikuriya traveled to the Rif Mountain area of Morocco to study the production and use of Kif--the Moroccan word for marijuana. 

Kif Cultivation in the Rif Mountains

First Published: Economic Botany, Vol. 21, No. 3, July-September, 1967

Kif is the Moroccan word for marihuana.  It is a general name that covers all preparations that are smoked.  These preparations are different from those encountered in North America in that only the blossoms of the mature female plant are used.  Another difference is that the blossoms are always mixed with an equal amount of tobacco.  Its use is widespread throughout the country among adult males as it has been for centuries.

The author (left) his guide and a friend.

Between the 20th and 23rd of August, 1966, I had the opportunity to travel in the Rif Mountain area in the province of Alhueemas, Morocco.  During this period, I was able to observe the cultivation of kif (Cannabis stiva L.), particularly near the towns of Ketama, Taksut, Taberrant, and Tleta Ketama.  The Director of the National Co-operative of Artisans for the Province of Alhucemas facilitated introductions and translations.  He is responsible for supervising the operations of handicraft manufacture for this province.  It was fortunate that handicraft manufacture happens to take place in the kif-growing area of Morocco, since I could also observe this traditional activity.

With proper introductions by an individual with a position of some importance locally, I found the people quite hospitable and friendly.  During my visit, I had a chance to share their various native dishes from the communal bowls in the center of the traditional circle.  The people there were quite open about answering any of my many questions.  At the same time, they were fully aware of the “illegality” of the kif.  Even the children of the villages that I met knew that it is forbidden to take kif into the lowlands.  During this visit, I talked with law enforcement officials, local farmers and with village officials.

The Rif are a chain of mountains stretching across the northernmost area of Morocco.  Except in the highest elevations (7,000-8,000 ft), they are generally hot and dry.  The terrain of the Rif Mountains is quite rugged.  The slopes are steep and rocky, often dropping several thousand feet to narrow canyons below.  In the central region of the mountains, there is a small flat plateau.  The village of Ketama is located at its western edge.

Ketama Valley

The area surrounding this central plateau is strongly reminiscent of many areas of the western United States, such as northern California or Colorado.  There are small, rather scanty stands of fir trees on the upper elevations.  In the lower areas, the vegetation is mostly shrubs and grasses.  During the short winter from November to March, there may be as much as 2 or 3 m of snow at the higher elevations.

Kif is grown in an area in the Rif Mountains, approximately 150 km northeast of Tangier.  The kif-growing area itself is a triangle with the base an imaginary line drawn east to west from a point approximately 10 km west of Tarquist, ending about 10 km east of Bab Taza.  The legs of the triangle converge in the area of Taberrant to the south.  The area included in this triangle is approximately 1,000 sq. km.

Ketama is reputed to be the center of the growth area; and the town reputedly producing the most kif in Asia, some 15 km to the southeast.

Roads are maintained with picks and shovels.

While the main roads are generally well-surfaced macadam, the grading is poor due to the use of hand tools for construction instead of earth moving equipment.  These roads are generally kept open all year.  There are just four or five towns actually located on the first class roads in this area.  Many of the towns in the area are located on extremely poor dirt roads leading back in the hills.  These roads are so formidable that it is not possible to drive any faster than 15 or 20 mph.  At several places, there were gangs of workmen attempting to improve and maintain the road with pick and shovel.  These roads wind along the faces of steep cliffs.  There was evidence of frequent slides.

There is little, if any, rural electrification.  Most of the towns had no electric or telephone lines leading to them.  When telephones and electricity were in evidence, they usually ran to the small outposts of the national police.  Outposts seemed to be located in each small town along the main road but only sporadically along the secondary roads.

Many of the valleys in this area where the kif is grown are inaccessible by motorized vehicle.  The crops are brought to one of these secondary roads by donkey.

The villages that are off from the main road bear very little resemblance to villages along the main road and in the lowlands.  They appear not to be villages as such but rather collections of houses spaced about 0.5 km of one another in these very steep canyon valleys.  There are no interconnecting roads for vehicles but only winding donkey paths.

Chiefly various Berber tribes populate this area.  Many of the people cannot speak any language except their native dialects.  They often times cannot speak Arabic.  In most towns, however, Arabic is spoken and occasionally French and Spanish as secondary languages.  For this reason, perhaps, they are not easily assimilated into the cultures of the “European” cities of the coast or the “Arabic” cities of the plains and foothills.

For perhaps a thousand years they have rather successfully resisted outside influences from a succession of invaders from the Phoenicians and the Romans to the French and Spanish.

There is a present some sympathy in this region for Abdul Krim, an old aspirant to power.

The Berbers seem to have a strong sense of ownership of private property knowing exactly whose field is whose.  The various families through the generations have taken much effort to build and maintain the neatly stone terraced fields that sit precariously on the steep rocky slopes.

Throughout North Africa these people are referred to as “The Berber Problem” because of their resistance to assimilation.

Oftentimes along the road and in these isolated ‘villages” I saw men carrying rifles of ancient vintage on their backs.  When I asked about this I was told that it wasn’t really a rifle but it was “just part of tradition”.

A typical town off the main road is Taksut.  Taksut is located in one of the myriad steep, craggy canyons so characteristic of the central Rif Mountains.  The barren, gray micaschist walls tower around the narrow steep floor of the canyon.  The local stone terraces the fields in order to create level ground for the cultivation of crops.  Small flat roofed adobe-like houses are spaced several meters apart surrounded by the family fields.

Taksut is not on the rather complete Michelin road map.  It is located about 70 kilometers southwest of the town of Targist off the main road.  The town is at the end of a spur of the road, which is of such a primitive quality that only large trucks and four-wheeled vehicles may safely pass.  At the time of deep snowfall during the short winter, it is isolated from the rest of the world.  The “road” comes to an abrupt rocky end on the outskirts of this town.  There are no streets but steep and crooked paths for donkeys, interconnecting the various houses.  The center of the town is just across a footbridge and up through some large boulders.  There is just a small dirt flat space around which here is a small cluster of houses and two tiny general stores.  The buildings are often built around the boulders or perched on top.  There is a small stream nearby.  There is no city hall, post office or other evidence of government services to this town.  There is neither telephone nor electricity.  There is no evidence of a modern sewage system.

As one goes from the center over the tortuous trails, one finds the outlaying houses surrounded by the family plot of ground.  The fields are still more rock than dirt, although much work has gone into clearing rocks.  The terraces of these fields are making from the rocks cleared from the fields.

The fields around Taksut are planted with about 50 percent kif and the rest corn, wheat, legumes and truck garden crops such as tomatoes and melons.  Besides this agriculture, artisans working in the home support the town.  Taksut has no one specialty in handicraft but rather an output of several individuals who specialize in different items.  Typical items are leather hassocks, leather purses and handbags, rugs, pseudo-antique firearms, and hand tied rugs.

The population of this little town-valley was estimated by some of its residents to be between three and five hundred.  Several interrelated families have owned the farms for generations.

No health services are provided.

The villages appear to be comprised of families or clans that own property.  The property demarcations are quite distinct, with everybody being quite aware of the ownership of the various fields.

Kif cultivation in the Rif.

The economy of this area is almost solely supported by the cultivation of kif.  In the central areas of growth it is the only crop.  The individuals involved in kif production in the central region of the kif-growing area must purchase staple goods rather than grow them themselves.  On the peripheral areas, however, more of the other crops are I evidence.  These are apparently both for local consumption and limited cash crops.

The people in the village of Taksut said that about 50 percent of the crops planted in their valley was kif with the other 50 percent other crops.  In Tabrant there appeared to be even less growth of kif and more growth of other crops.  Less handicraft work, however, was in evidence.

Although no accurate estimate can be make of the total area and the yield, the area planted in kif would be in the thousands of square kilometers with an output in the range of thousands of kilograms of marketable product.

The corn and wheat crops are quite poor in quality with yields of perhaps less than one bushel per acre. 

Local farmers estimated the yield as
2 kilograms per square meter.

Concerning the yield of kif, the average is estimated by the local farmers as being two kilograms per square meter of marketable product (dried tops and stems, the leaves are not included).  The farmers receive five Dirham (1 Dirham = 20 cents) per kilogram of this product from individuals who come up from the lowlands with trucks to take the product for distribution to the cities.  The selling price in the cities jumps up to upwards from 15 to 50 Dirhams per kilogram.  Further refined products bring even more, sometimes in the area of 200 Dirhams per kilo.  The refining consists of separating the blossoms from the stems and the seeds for smoking.  The blossoms are then mixed with an equal amount of a high grade of local tobacco, which is grown primarily in other sections.  I did not see any cultivation of this tobacco in evidence in the area visited.

Kif is planted in this high mountainous region early in March, shortly after the spring snows have thawed.  It is harvested during the month of August and early September.

The Government attempts to practice a policy of containment, allowing no new areas of kif cultivation while allowing those already in production to be maintained.  The control of this area by the Government is somewhat functional since in Taberrant, a comparatively inaccessible town, the national gendarmerie had destroyed several acres of kif growing there within the past month.

The soil in Ketama is quite rocky.

Along the main road at least a t babtaza, Bab Berred, Ketama and targist, there are barricades and national gendarmarie outposts.  When I inquired as to what these were for I was told that at night all trucks that pass through this area are searched.

During informal conversations with the Chief of the national gendarmerie for the Alhucemas Province I learned that they are really not concerned with individuals taking one or two kilos of the product out of the area either national or tourists, but are more concerned with national taking the kif out for purpose of resale.

I am told that most of the Moroccans who pass through the area have their luggage inspected at various bus stops.  In my travels, however, I saw no evidence of this occurring when a bus happened to be stopped.  There are outposts of the national gendarmerie at all of the towns on the main road and in many of the towns I the hills.  They have telephones and, in some instances, short wave radios for communications.

Along one of the dirt roads I saw a weighing station where some farmers had brought the dried kif in for pickup for shipment to the cities of the lowland.  I was not, unfortunately, able to find out more data concerning the transport arrangements from this growing area to the cities.  This regulation of kif is apparently a very complicated matter handled by the Moroccan Government in easy that I could not comprehend.  It is apparently must be some way of obtaining Government “approval” for transport to enable these vehicles to take the crop out of the area.

The cultivation of kif in Morocco has been present for hundreds of years.  The total consumption of kif in Morocco is measured in the thousands of kilograms per year.

There is a situation of chronic unemployment in Morocco.  The migration of Berbers who have no industrial skills and who are not assimilated into either Arabic or European culture further complicate matters.  In 1965 Casablanca experienced riots that necessitated seven days of martial law.  These riots toke place primarily in a slum area on the edge of the city populated primarily by “displaced” Berbers.

Five years ago there was an attempt to burn the kif fields in the Rif mountains but this government effort was met with armed opposition.  The government ceased its endeavor when it became apparent that this would be a long and costly struggle.

Ketama Valley.

Because of the rugged terrain and the poor communications, effective resistance to a government campaign would be quite easy.

Pressure from the people in the cities who traffic in the huge quantities of kif would no be insignificant.

The deprivation of these people in the growing area of their chief, and oft times, sole cash crop would drive them from their marginal rocky land to further inflame the unemployment problems in the city.

The above observations and inferences illustrate the complexity of the problem of kif cultivation in Morocco.  Firstly, there is the barren, marginal soil on which little else can be grown.  Secondly, there are the rugged terrain, poor roads, and poor communication.  Thirdly, the tradition of this unassimilated group of people is one of resisting outside influence.  When these factors are combined with the large vested interests in transport and distribution as well as chronic unemployment situation, it is doubtful that any significant reductions of kif cultivation can be effected.  It appears that this situation of stalemate between the central government and the Berbers of the Rif will continue for the foreseeable future.

Needless to say, investigation of possibilities of the introduction of substitute cash crops is essential for eventual solution of the problem, (no agricultural test stations were seen in the kif growing area).  At this writing effective measures seem many years away.