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Lesotho Cannabis Cultivation

The news that Lesotho had begun to issue licences for the cultivation of Cannabis spread quickly around South Africa and the world.

There is not a lot of information about licences in Lesotho for Cannabis.

Nor any actual studies or data on strains or Cannabis production.

Below is an old pdf which makes for interesting reading.

Will Lesotho become a major player in the world Cannabis arena? Time will tell.

The Geopolitical Drug Watch (or Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues – OGD), an independent, non-profit making, non-governmental organization based in Paris, carried out a study on the drug situation in Southern Africa in the summer of 1997 on behalf of the European Commission. The main aim of this study was to provide a broad picture of illegal activities linked to the production, trafficking and use of banned substances in the 11 countries then part of the Southern African Development Community (SALK?) further to the end of the racist regime in the Republic of South Africa (RSA) in the early 1990s. The downfall of apartheid led to peace returning to most formerly war-tom Southern African countries. At least large-scale military operations involving pro- and anti-apartheid forces came to a halt, and the embargo that the international community had enforced against the RSA was lifted. Commercial, diplomatic, and political relations between Southern Africa and the rest of the world, which during the conflict were low and/or carried out secretly (and mostly in breach of UN resolutions), were normalised and the region opened up to the world. Almost immediately, the perception in the West and in the SADC itself was that illegal activities related to the international drug trade, including narcotics production, transit- trafficking, consumption and money-laundering, greatly intensified in the now more peaceful region.

Seizures carried out throughout the world and reports by local and international authorities were at the root of the new perception which motivated the OGD study. As part of this study, the present writer was sent on a 7-day mission to Lesotho, a small, mostly rural, mountainous landlocked country of about 2 million inhabitants, which is completely surrounded by South African territory. Although it is politically an independent state, Lesotho’s geographic location makes it very dependent on its powerful neighbour which absorbs most of its exports. Additionally, given Lesotho’s lack of industry, poor soil and general state of underdevelopment (it is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a GNP per capita of US $660 in 19933), South African mines are the largest employer of Basotho workforce. Lesotho produces large quantities of cannabis (called “matekoane” in Sesotho, the language spoken in Lesotho). Lesotho basically grows cannabis in order to supply the large South African market of marijuana. Cannabis production clearly represents one of the country’s three main sources of hard currency, the other two being international aid and the wages sent home by Basotho miners working in South Africa. There are many reasons why a study on cannabis in a Southern African country like Lesotho is relevant (and further research a necessity). Cannabis cultivation and use as a drug are deeply entrenched in the region. Indeed, they are part of the culture of many southern African ethnic groups, and archaeological evidence suggests that cannabis has been grown and used since before the 15th century. It would seem that this tradition is now used in the setting up of a modem commercial “ agri-business” of cannabis production and sale on regional, mostly urban, mass markets. The largest mass market for cannabis products in the region is undoubtedly South Africa. It seems that there exists a kind of South African 6 ‘cannabis complex” whereby some areas have specialised in producing cannabis in order to supply the consumer markets, most notably those in the large urban areas of Joburg (and Gauteng province in general), Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, and Cape Town, Western Cape province. Although there is little doubt that cannabis is grown throughout South African territory, OGD has identified 5 distinct areas which seem to have specialised in cannabis production as a significant source of income. These are parts of the South African provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape (the former Transkei) and Northern, as well as the two small independent states of Swaziland and Lesotho, which are in reality highly dependent on South Africa, both politically and economically. Let us recall by the way that the increasing specialisation of these countries ’ agricultural sector in cannabis production for the South African market reinforces their dependency vis-a-vis their powerful neighbour. Although for want of research the reasons for the five regions ’specialisation into cannabis production have not been studied closely enough and they may vary, for the time being they can be ascribed to a mix of politics and economics. Whatever the case, the South African cannabis complex would be a fascinating subject of research, especially in the current international context of the “war on drugs”. In this respect, it is worth reminding the reader that the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on illicit drugs, which took place on June 8-10, 1998 in New York City, approved a 1 O-year program of action which included a pledge to “drastically reduce” all illicit crops, including cannabis, by the year 20085. The present paper provides some evidence that this task will not be easily achieved.

I. Production
a) Marijuana Most of the information on cannabis cultivation presented in this article is based on ecological, socio-economic, and epidemiological reports produced by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) prior to the construction of the large Mohale hydroelectric dam (in Maseru and Thaba-Tseka districts) which will produce electricity for Lesotho and provide water to Gauteng province (Johannesburg), South Afiica6. Additional information has been gathered from interviews with six cannabis growers (hereafter identified as “OGD- growers”) whose lands in the eastern, mountainous region of Maseru district will be flooded by the Mohale dam. Yet the resulting data is not entirely satisfactory, since it was obtained from a limited sample of growers living solely in the zones affected by the construction of the dam. It cannot therefore be applied to the rest of Lesotho. Furthermore, although cannabis cultivation is widespread in the mountains, and although all residents of the zones in question (and the country at large) are aware of this fact (as are all local, national and international authorities)–in short, although cannabis production is an open secret and enjoys de facto de- criminalisation-it nevertheless remains a very private activity. The LHDA points out that growers are very reticent to discuss the issue, and that it could not gain official access to their fields in order to establish its estimates (in spite of the fact that the LHDA is seriously considering including cannabis revenues in the compensation plan for residents of flooded zones). This information nevertheless provides complementary details on the situation of  cannabis crops in the country’s mountain regions which furnish, according to all our sources, the vast majority of the national harvest.


Cannabis is grown almost everywhere in the country, even on small plots in the capital, Maser-u. However, the main growing regions are found in the high mountain zones in the centre and east of the country, as well as in the western foothill region. Plantations are generally situated in the valleys of the numerous streams and rivers that drain the mountains (including the Orange River, called Senqu River in Lesotho). According to all sources interviewed during the field study, cannabis production is most prevalent in the following districts: – Berea: production occurs in the foothills and mountains located in the east of this district. – Mokhotlong: the eastern sector of this mountainous district (a zone stretching east and south from the Moremoholo River Valley, and including the district capital, Mokhotlong) is part of a region known for its high-quality marijuana (, ‘first grade”). This region also covers parts of Thaba-Tseka and Qacha’s Neck districts (see below). The top-grade marijuana is shipped to Durban in South Africa, where it is probably marketed and exported under the name “Durban Poison” (notably to the Netherlands). The western sector of Mokhotlong district yields marijuana of lesser quality. – Thaba-Tseka: whereas the mountainous western sector produces “second-” and “third- grade” cannabis, the equally mountainous south and east belong to the “first grade” production zone mentioned above. – Qacha’s Neck: This basically mountainous district belongs almost entirely to-indeed, is the heart of-the first Grade carmabis region. The mountains to the west, however, apparently produce second and third grade quality. It must be noted that the names “ first grade”, “second grade” and “third grade” are those used by the Basotho themselves in order to describe the level of potency that they perceive in the various streams of cannabis grown in Lesotho.
A long history The first historical record of cannabis in what is now Lesotho dates back to the sixteenth century. According to historian Stephen Gill, oral tradition has handed down the story of a “colonising” use of marijuana by the Moena people. The Koena group moved from the northeast of what is now Mpumalanga province (the former Orange Free State) and settled in Lesotho around 1550 (thereby becoming one of the ethnic components of the Basotho group today) by “purchasing” land from San tribes (the earliest inhabitants of South Africa, better known today as “Bushmen”) in exchange for marijuana.

Commercial cultivation According to Gill, the commercial cultivation of cannabis in Lesotho increased considerably from the mid-1980s onward. The LHDA’s estimates suggest that households in the Mohale dam zone currently draw 39% of their annual income from agricultural activitiesid. Nearly 50% of that agricultural income (personal consumption included) comes from the sale of cannabisl5. Cannabis is cultivated in the same way as other crops. Farming in Lesotho’s mountains is not modem but based on rainfall; except for cannabis, crops are mainly destined for personal consumption. Mountain farmers use very little fertiliser (not even natural, like the manure that exists in abundance), pesticides or fungicides, all products of which they remain wary (only 8% of farmers questioned by the LHDA used them). Mountain agriculture, and cannabis crops in particular, seems to obey the following model: little investment, little risk, low returns. This model appears adapted to the poor mountain soil which, even with more intensive input, would not yield returns justifying the needed investment. That, at least, is the opinion of local farmers as reported by the LHDA, which does not entirely agree with themi6. Whatever the case, cannabis is an indispensable part of the precarious but real equilibrium maintained by mountain farms. Studies by the LHDA, based on low estimates, show that the extremely high value of matekoane means that it supplies nearly half of all agricultural income even though it covers only 10% of land under cultivation. The LHDA estimates the profit from a hectare of corn to be 209 malotis (M209), as compared to M354 for a hectare of wheat, M493 for a hectare of peas and M4,379 for a hectare of cannabisi7. It is thus probable that most mountain farms in Lesotho grow a “cluster” of crops, the majority of which are for personal consumption, the sole cash crop being cannabis.
Methods ofproduction According to available information, all of the cannabis grown in Lesotho comes from small peasant farms in the regions listed above. Various sources indicate that cannabis is usually grown in conjunction with sweet corn, which is the staple crop of Basotho peasants, as well as the basis of their diet. Some cannabis is nevertheless grown as a single crop in more isolated regions, on surface areas that might be as large as five hectares, according to OGD-growers. When planted as a single crop, the size of the OGD-growers ’cannabis field is never less than three hectares, which is also the average size of their corn fields. It is worth noting that other sources, generally well-informed on rural life, claim that single-crop cannabis fields are only very rarely larger than one hectare. It is possible that OGD growers have exaggerated the size of their fields thinking that they would obtain more compensation money from the U-IDA. According to the studies conducted by the LHDA, the vast majority of mountain farmers work their own land. Some sharecropping and tenant farming exist, but remains marginal’*. The conclusion is that cannabis production is mainly an economic activity of small owner- farmers. Planters sow cannabis between mid August and early October, that is to say during the southern spring. Harvesting occurs at the end of the summer, between February and April. Most of the harvest is sold during winter, generally in July. Given the important and increasing supply, winter prices offered by dealers are low (M200 to M300 per bag). Much better prices can be negotiated in January (M500 to M600, because almost all of the previous year’s production has been sold whereas the current crop is still on the stalk) or in November (M400 to M500, because stocks of the previous harvest are getting low and the current crop has only just been sown). Thus, farmers who are able to stock part of their harvest can increase profits by selling during the months when prices are highest. Cannabis therefore constitutes a form of savings for Basotho producers. Cannabis is sown with seeds obtained from the previous harvest or bought from a neighbour. In both mixed and single-crop fields, matekoane is sown directly in the field where it matures (nurseries and transplanting are not employed, as they often are in West Africa). Care involves weeding the plot and, very occasionally, applying manure and irrigating. These tasks are generally performed by women, but there are many phases which involve all members of the family, as is always the case at harvest time, when men, women, and children work together. Harvesting and packing (see below) are sometimes the occasion for “work parties” where neighbours and paid workers join in, although this system would not seem to be the rule. The first harvest, probably carried out in January, is done on what farmers call “ majaja”. According to accounts provided by the OGD-growers, majaja comes from the same seeds as “the real matekoane” yet bears no flowers or seeds. It can then be deducted that majaja is the male plant of cannabis. The majaja harvest therefore represents a thinning of the plots, leaving only the female plants. Whereas in other countries such as Morocco this thinning is normally viewed as a task designed to improve the final product, it seems that in Lesotho it has a commercial goal, namely to market another full-fledged product. It was difficult to obtain information on majaja, which growers distinguish from matekoane in terms of labour (only the leaves of majaja are retained) and income (majaja earns less). The leaves of male plants are separated from the stalks and sold in bags. It is probable that Sesotho majaja is the substance sold in South Africa under the name of “maajut”, a poor quality marijuana basically used for smoking with Mandraxig in what is called “white pipe”. The main harvest of “real matekoane” (which contains seeds and flowers) begins in February and may continue until April, depending on weather conditions and geographical situation. The harvested plants are carried to the farm house where they are generally left to dry outside, on the ground. The flowers are then separated from the stalks. The flowers are stuffed into bags (probably together with a certain amount of leaves) which normally contain 50 kilograms of corn and which constitute the unit of sale in the fields. A Basotho source whose work entails frequent contact with the mountain-dwelling communities stated that in recent years increasing numbers of growers in the Qabane river valley (on the eastern edge of Mohale’s Hoek district) were rolling their matekoane into cigarettes prior to selling it, thereby adding value that increased prices. According to this source, the task is carried out by women, and involves no machinery. If this innovation extends to other areas of the country (it was not mentioned by either the LHDA studies or the OGD-growers), that would represent another sign of the already obvious de-criminalisation of the cultivation and, to a lesser extent, the sale of cannabis in Lesotho. Above all, however, it might indicate a growing specialisation in cannabis crops in certain areas, with a concomitant monetisation of the economy, insofar as packing even a part of the marijuana harvest in the form of cigarettes probably requires a great deal of time. That time would no longer be available for other tasks generally allotted to women, for example cultivating food crops, especially vegetables. An hypothesis may be made that if these tasks are abandoned in favour of rolling marijuana into cigarettes, rural households will increasingly depend on commercial networks rather than their own labour for food. According to the OGD-growers (who, it should be remembered, live in the Mohale dam region, relatively far from the country’s borders) the harvest is usually taken from the production zone by traffickers who employ automobiles (usually 4-wheel drive vehicles, known as “bakkies” in Lesotho and South Africa). The harvest for a given zone is first brought to a spot accessible by car, at the buyer’s expense. According to the OGD-growers, the purchasers are sometimes Basotho but usually Zulu or Xhosa (two South African ethnic groups) and pay mountain dwellers (usually women) to transport the matekoane harvest to the assembly point. Purchasers sometimes also rent the growers ’donkeys to get the harvest to more distant assembly points. In other regions of Lesotho, for example in Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka, and Qacha’s Neck districts (in Eastern Lesotho, near the border with South- Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province) caravans of donkeys and “porters” carry the marijuana across the border, probably into Zulu villages. From there it is shipped on to Durban, usually in collective taxis. It should be noted that the temporary hire of farmers as porters, and the rental of their donkeys, are advantageous arrangements for growers, because it means that transporting the cannabis harvest provides another distinct source of income in addition to straightforward cultivation. It proved impossible, however, to obtain accurate information – even approximate – on the scope of the income thus generated.

For more information on Cannabis Cultivation in Lesotho please contact

Ministry of Health

Postal: P.O. Box 174, Maseru, Lesotho.
Tel: +2266 22327205
Fax: +266 2310013.

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