After her daughters died, Khathazile took in her 11 orphaned grandchildren without hesitation. It is what a gogo, or grandmother, does in Swaziland, a monarchy in the southeast of Africa. Here, the world’s highest H.I.V. infection rate has left a sea of motherless children. “God will help us,” Khathazile said.
Perhaps. But Khathazile has some insurance in case divine intervention fails: Swazi Gold, a highly potent and valuable strain of marijuana that is sought after in the thriving drug market of next-door South Africa. In a field deep in the forest, atop a distant hill in this arid corner of tiny Swaziland, Khathazile grows Swazi Gold to keep her growing brood of grandchildren fed, clothed and in school.
“Without weed, we would be starving,” explained Khathazile, who asked that only her middle name be used.
Khathazile is one of thousands of peasants eking out a meager living in the rural areas of this kingdom at Africa’s southern tip by growing marijuana, according to relief workers, embracing it as a much-needed income boost that is relatively hardy and easy to grow.
She does not think of herself as part of a vast global chain of drug cultivation that includes poppy farmers in Afghanistan or coca growers in Latin America. She simply has her grandchildren to consider and says she started growing it when her attempts at other crops failed. “If you grow corn or cabbages, the baboons steal them,” Khathazile said.
Marijuana cultivation may provide a safety net, but the grandmothers of [Swaziland] are hardly drug kingpins. They must find a secret field to plant, often one deep in the forest, which they reach by walking for hours. Clearing a patch is tough work, even for women long accustomed to hard labor. They have to buy seeds, if they are new at planting, as well as manure. Not enough manure and the crop fetches a lower price. It must be carefully pruned to produce the right kind of flowers. And they have to watch out for weeds. “Weeds are very bad for weed,” one growing grandmother said.
A good harvest can yield as much as 25 pounds of marijuana. But they sell to middlemen who come through the villages at harvest time, and have little bargaining power. Most make less than $400 per crop. “The men come from South Africa to buy, but they cheat us. What can we do? If you sit with [the crop] the police can come and arrest you.”
Enterprising growers bury part of their harvest in watertight barrels deep in the woods, saving them until December when the supply dries up and prices rise. But most of the grandmothers need the money last week, not six months from now. Another gogo said marijuana had provided her family with enough to survive, but she wondered if it was really worth it. “I don’t want to grow it anymore,” Ms. Nkosi said. “The money is too little.”
But as this year’s planting season began, she was gearing up for another crop. School fees for her two remaining grandchildren at home would be nearly $400 next school year, she said, and she had no other way to earn the money. “When you are in poverty you must do whatever you can to live,” she said. “If I earn a little something my heart will be content.”
This is part of a larger and very interesting story, which you will find HERE.
[images: Google images Swaziland]