Nigerian Cannabis Farmers: Navigating Illegality for Livelihood


A groundbreaking research study conducted by renowned scholars challenges prevailing assumptions about illicit cannabis cultivation in rural Nigeria. The study, led by Gernot Klantschnig, Associate Professor in International Criminology at the University of Bristol, along with Ediomo-Ubong Nelson, Africa research project coordinator at the Global Drug Policy Observatory, Swansea University, and Janet Ogundairo, PhD candidate and Research Fellow at the University of Ibadan, offers a fresh perspective on the dynamics of cannabis cultivation and trade in the region.

Arriving at a serene village health facility in southwestern Nigeria, the research team engaged with a group of rural farmers who referred to cannabis as “ewé ọlà” or the “leaf of wealth” in the Yorùbá language. Despite the strict criminalization of cannabis in Nigeria, these farmers were eager to share their experiences and insights, shedding light on a previously hidden aspect of rural life.

The study challenges the conventional narrative that portrays illicit cannabis activities as unproductive or solely driven by organized crime. The researchers’ in-depth fieldwork, consisting of over 40 interviews and extensive ethnographic observation, uncovers a more nuanced reality. The research reveals that illicit cannabis cultivation, despite its legal status, plays a significant role in the livelihoods of these farmers, contradicting prevailing stereotypes and highlighting the need for a reconsideration of drug policies.

The main findings of the research demonstrate that cannabis farming and trade offer substantial socioeconomic benefits to those involved, often surpassing the income generated by legal crops such as cocoa. In a region plagued by poverty and unemployment, these financial gains provide a lifeline for individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.

Contrary to common misconceptions, the study finds that a diverse array of individuals participate in cannabis cultivation and trade, including university graduates, traditional healers, and community elders. The researchers underscore that this involvement isn’t limited to the uneducated or socially marginalized, challenging preconceived notions about those engaged in the trade.

The research also explores the empowerment that cannabis offers to its cultivators and traders. Many participants reported that cannabis farming became their primary source of income, allowing them to provide for their families, educate their children, and elevate their social standing within the community. This economic agency defies stereotypes and demonstrates the multifaceted impact of cannabis cultivation on local dynamics.

Despite the evident benefits, the stigma associated with cannabis remains a significant hurdle for those involved in its cultivation and trade. Criminalization not only affects their social legitimacy but also takes a toll on their self-esteem. Additionally, the ever-looming threat of police raids compels some to allocate funds for bribes, cutting into their profits and imperiling their livelihoods.

The study’s participants expressed a collective desire for the stigma to be dismantled and for cannabis cultivation to be legalized. Drawing inspiration from cannabis legalization efforts in other parts of the world, they hope for a future where their livelihoods are legitimate and respected. However, the road to legalization in Nigeria faces challenges rooted in social conservatism and the interests of certain law enforcement officials who profit from the status quo.

In essence, the research by Klantschnig, Nelson, and Ogundairo challenges existing narratives surrounding illicit cannabis cultivation in Nigeria. By delving into the lived experiences of those engaged in this trade, the study paints a more comprehensive picture of the complex interplay between drug policy, livelihoods, and social dynamics. The study encourages a reevaluation of current drug policies, highlighting their implications for marginalized communities and advocating for a more inclusive and holistic approach to drug regulation.

Source: The Conversation 

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