Paraguay: The cannabis breadbasket of the Southern Cone

Paraguay is the principal producer of cannabis in South America, though nobody knows for certain how many hectares are planted with this crop, probably on account of its concealment and a prevalent climate of corruption. National authorities and international control agencies estimate an area between 6,000 and 7,000 hectares, with an annual production of 16,500 tonnes. At present, according to estimates of the Paraguayan National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Anti Drogas – SENAD), some 20,000 farmers are involved in cannabis cultivation, boosting the microeconomy of the north-eastern region of the country.

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DPB Nr. 46 – Paraguay: The cannabis breadbasket of the Southern Cone – English (pdf)

Key Points

  • Paraguay is the principal producer of cannabis in South America. Despite its importance as a supplier of cannabis in South America, there has been a surprising absence of serious studies of its impact on its own society, and on the play of offer and demand in neighbouring countries.
  • After 40 years of an intense “war on drugs”, there are now eight departments involved in the business, with spiralling homicide rates, an absence of state policy intervention, drug traffickers infiltrated into local political structures, and millions of dollars which are shared out by terrorist organizations, a new chain of services connected to the illicit trade, and – to a much lesser extent – small farmers suffocated by repeated crises.
  • Contradictions in productive structures, the lack of agrarian policies, poverty and the absence of perspectives for the rural population led to a gradual, and progressively more blatant, adoption of cannabis cultivation by young. Over time, growing cannabis became one of the few viable economic prospects for large sectors of the population.
  • Intermediaries who manage contacts with the buyers on the border with Brazil, employ young people to grow, protect, harvest, dry, press, package and even transport the cannabis – not just within Paraguay, but even into nearby countries, using the limited means at their disposal, such as their shoulders, bicycles and motorbikes.
  • The use of cannabis is looked down on by the general population, particularly in rural areas, and even in the communities where it is grown, it is commonly referred to as the “demon weed” (hierba maldita). Lifetime use of cannabis in Paraguay is the second lowest in all Latin America, only 0.4% admitting to having tried it.
  • Some politicians, government officials, civil society organisations and farmers’ organisations see the benefit of the regulation of the cannabis market in Paraguay, but the debate is still incipient.