CNN’s Karl Penhaul reports from the mountains of Southwest Colombia:
Through the afternoon downpour a horse plods along a muddy mountain path. I can smell him almost before he rounds the bend. He’s weighed down with more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of freshly-picked marijuana.
A peasant farmer gees the animal along, anxious to get his crop into the dry. I stop the farmer and briefly pet the horse.
“He’s called Stoner,” the farmer tells me in Spanish, before breaking into a broad grin and setting off again. He was, of course, joking.
These are the mountains of Colombia’s southwest Cauca province, far from the reach of the law and just as far from market — making it difficult, the dirt-poor peasants say, to scrape a living selling legal produce.
Around every bend and in every village there’s a surprise. Marijuana plantations stretch sometimes for several acres, clinging to steep-sided canyons.
Farmhands wielding machetes disappear amid a “forest” of thousands of plants, two or three times taller than a person. They reappear minutes later with a bundle of marijuana over their shoulder and head for rudimentary drying houses made of black plastic slung over wooden branches.
In some of these shacks hundreds of pounds of marijuana are hung out to dry.
In other communities, old ladies take advantage of a brief break in the rain to toss marijuana up to dry on the tin roofs of their homes. Others hang the herb in the rafters of the kitchen, where the strangely sweet smell mingles with the aroma of a stew cooking on a smoky fire.
This is a cottage industry. Weed is the cash crop of choice. The cheapest variety sells for around $4 a pound — that’s almost twice the price of coffee, which is the only other viable cash crop in these parts…
[continues at CNN]