Malawian growers of cannabis (chamba) are getting very little money from their labour, even though the illicit drug is fetching a lot on the international market, a World Bank report has said.
The report, titled "Ill-gotten money and the Economy: Experiences in Malawi and Namibia" is based on findings of a study by the World Bank in November last year and February this year.
This study was meant to bring to light the challenges the two countries face in trying to address the problem of making money from criminal, illegal and unethical activities.
And one of such ill ways the study found in Malawi was that of chamba trade.
The report, released last week, says its calculations suggest that Malawi's cannabis, declared illegal in the country, has a street value of K1.4 billion, about 0.2 percent of Malawi's GDP.
However, the majority of the product is exported informally resulting into Malawians not benefiting from it.
"Since Malawi farmers receive only about a fifth of the price for which it is being sold in foreign consumer markets, the positive effect of the production of cannabis on the overall Malawi economy is negligible," says the report.
The report says Malawi is renowned for growing "the best and finest" chamba in the world. The crop is cultivated in remote parts of the central and northern regions.
Most of the growers cultivate small fields that are hard to access by road.
While most of the farmers, mostly poor people, cultivate it on less than a hectare piece of land, there are also larger commercial cultivators, the report says.
Most of the growers sell their produce from their field or homes to professional cannabis traffickers.
Only a small minority of the growers take the crop to the market themselves, the study found.
Transportation, corrupt roadblocks
From the fields, the commodity is transported in cars or large trucks or in small bags through public transport to markets within and outside Malawi.
The researchers spoke with a Malawian trucker who said they bribe police or customs officials to pass through.
According to the trucker, bribing for that passage could cost between K150,000 and K200,000, depending on the amount of chamba being transported.
According to the report, the majority of the chamba is produced for the export market. It leaves the country through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, to South Africa and to overseas markets.
It is also increasingly exported to neighboring countries such as Tanzania and Kenya.
"One cob of pure, smokable marijuana is worth US$1.97 on the street in Kenya, of which about US$0.32 is paid to the original farmer," says the report.
The report acknowledges that growing, dealing, and possessing chamba is an offence in Malawi.
It says the antidrug policy of the Malawi Police Service involves seizures and burning the cannabis harvest, destroying the fields, and arresting cannabis traffickers.
"Seizures of cannabis vary widely from year to year but increased steadily to an average of over 70,000 kilograms a year over the last 10 years," the study found.
But the study found that Malawi's antidrug policies are affected by corrupt practices within the police forces.
"Little effort is made to gain intelligence about the organisations behind the trade in cannabis within Malawi and across its borders. The fact that both Malawians and foreigners have been arrested and convicted for drug trafficking suggests that transnational networks may be involved," it says.
The report names Chamba production among other sources of ill-gotten money in Malawi. The others include government corruption, tax fraud, violent housebreaking, labour exploitation and human trafficking.
Police spokesperson Davie Chingwalu has said police have confiscated more Chamba than what is published in the media.
"We may not have the necessary equipment but we have people very well trained in these things and they are very effective. About the bribery issue, it's difficult to comment because there is no concrete evidence given," he said.
The study was conducted by a team of officials from the World Bank and Malawi's Financial Intelligence Unit.