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Marijuana - hope for the homeless

IRINnews.org, 4th February 2006

Marijuana grown in Swaziland could help house South Africa's homeless, according to an NGO working with residents in informal settlements.

In ancient times handfuls of cannabis, also known as hemp, were added to clay to strengthen bricks for building; more recently the practice has received a fresh impetus, but the hemp is now compressed into bricks and used for construction.

"With five years' experience in dealing with government and housing, and the bureaucracy in between, I can say I am expertly aware of the controversial nature of this project. However, there are homes built from this technology in England, Spain, France, Turkey, Australia, California and South Africa," Andre du Plessis, a project coordinator with the NGO, InternAfrica, told IRIN.

Swaziland has the highest cultivation of cannabis per capita in southern Africa, according to the Swaziland Council on Smoking, Drugs and Alcohol (COSAD). The authorities' efforts to destroy marijuana crops have failed to discourage Swazi peasant farmers from growing the plant and South African drug traffickers pay handsomely for Swaziland's marijuana, which is prized for its potency in Holland and other European destinations.

InternAfrica cites as motivation a report by the International Narcotics Control Board proposing alternative uses for marijuana to legitimise illegal crops.

"The controversy regarding cannabis is easily resolved when used industrially - the plant is harvested at the onset of autumn [1 March] before flowering and the creation of the drug content. Naturally, once the crop has been used industrially and is combined with lime, it cannot be smoked or used as a drug," du Plessis explained.

If Swazi authorities can be convinced that the local cannabis crop could become a legitimate source of building material, the project's proponents feel that hundreds of cannabis growers could benefit from a sustainable livelihood. Marijuana growing has become permanently entrenched in the hidden mountain valleys of the northern Hhohho Region above the capital, Mbabane.

COSAD has estimated that 70 percent of farmers in this region devote part or all of their time to marijuana cultivation.

"InternAfrica intends to set up one such project, and to replicate it in a controlled, government-sponsored, open and transparent [manner]," said du Plessis. The NGO is currently in talks with the Swazi government.

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