Cannabiz Africa Logo in white - business marketplace in Africa

Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar Now Key Centre of Illegal Cannabis Production

By the Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime (Extract from its Rising Tides Report, June 2021)

Two key trendsCannabis has a long history in the Indian Ocean, and has been cultivated across the islands. In the modern cannabis market, two key trends have emerged. * Cannabis production has boomed in Madagascar, which exports regionally, while * Eradication efforts in Mauritius have increased reliance on imports and fuelled the island’s synthetic cannabinoid market.In Madagascar, fields of cannabis covering hundreds of hectares are found in the main production areas of Analabe Ambanja in the north and Betroka in the south-east. Cannabis production offers a livelihood for members of communities in remote rural areas where there are few alternatives. While widely consumed in Madagascar – the majority of Malagasy-grown cannabis is for the domestic market – large and increasing quantities are trafficked by sea to other Indian Ocean island states, primarily Mauritius and the Comoros (the latter also operating as a transit point to Mayotte).

Mauritius: Cannabis prices go through the roof

In Mauritius, significant law enforcement efforts have targeted cannabis cultivation and consumption.  Cannabis was principally grown on the slopes of the mountains surrounding Chamarel in the south-west of the island, often in the middle of sugar cane fields in an effort to disguise the crop. However, such efforts had limited success against the Anti-Drug and Smuggling Unit (ADSU), which used helicopters to spot and spray crops. These operations, alongside more traditional uprooting techniques, have destroyed a significant proportion of domestic cultivation.

Madagascar cannabis production rocketing

This has had two key impacts. Firstly, it has driven up the price of cannabis, which increased almost fourfold between 2015 and 2020, from €15 to €57 (MUR 800– MUR 2 675), transforming cannabis into a ‘luxury item’. Stakeholders consistently identified this as a key driver of surging synthetic cannabinoid use, as this drug is far more affordable. As one PWUD (person who uses drugs) in Mauritius explained: ‘Most pot smokers shifted to synthetic drugs because cannabis is becoming a luxury. Being well paid, I can afford it, else I would have stopped. Can you imagine that the price of cannabis is almost as high as heroin?’Secondly, plummeting cultivation in Mauritius has boosted imports from Madagascar, and more recently Réunion, to feed demand. The difference in price between the points of origin and sale makes this an extremely profitable venture for exporters: street-level cannabis prices in Mauritius are over 2 000% higher than those in Madagascar, even at the lower range of prices cited in Mauritius.Reunion is a key cannabis smuggling hubRéunion’s exports of cannabis to Mauritius is the sole instance of the island operating as drugs exporter, and arguably its key engagement in the inter-island drugs market. The June 2019 interception of 142 kilograms of cannabis near a small port on the eastern coast of the island, by far the largest seizure, highlighted the scale of exports. In other respects, Réunion’s small drugs market is more closely tied to mainland France. Although with close cultural ties to the other Creole islands, Réunion is distant from its neighbours both in geography (226 kilometres away from Mauritius, the closest island) and trading links. Instead, Réunion is economically and politically linked with France. Its economy, both licit and illicit, reflects this.


Cannabis is packed into sacks like these, attached to wooden poles to enable it to be transported on foot from the Andriry region, near Betroka, primarily to Antananarivo. © Riana Raymonde Randrianarisoa

Comorian law enforcement report that cannabis imports from Madagascar, particularly from Nosy Be, have increased over the last five years, partly as a result of decreasing local cultivation (in this case not driven by eradication efforts). Smaller volumes are also carried on the passenger ferry running from Mahajanga, and on the weekly cargo ferry from Tanzania.There are also reports that Madagascar has developed facilities for refining cannabis into cannabis resin, which is then shipped to the other Indian Ocean islands, particularly to the Comoros and Mayotte.73Contrasting to developing trends around the world and across East and southern Africa, none of the Indian Ocean island states have made moves to decriminalize or regulate the production and consumption of cannabis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Table of Contents



Subscribe to our free newsletter!