Robeiro climbs to the top of his greenhouse with electric cables that will power light bulbs to keep constant light for the first 3 months of marijuana growth. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)

travel | 01.01.2022

Photographer captures the tranquil life inside “The Lost City Of Marijuana”

Some of the highest quality cannabis in the world can be found growing in the small town of Toribío, Colombia.

With abundant freshwater resources, fertile land, and proximity to the equator where the sun rises and sets on a perfect twelve hour cycle year round, Colombia grows some of the highest quality cannabis in the world. The Cauca department, in the country’s southwest, is one of the largest marijuana cultivation regions in the country.

Here, people of the small town of Toribío carve out a life for themselves using the only profitable crop available: marijuana.

“Marijuana is more profitable [than other crops] because of its price and also the number of harvests farmers can do in one year period,” Photojournalist and documentary photographer Nicolas Enriquez tells Herb. “Marijuana can be harvested after three months of growth under constant light (natural and artificial during the night) giving them four harvests a year which is more than tomato, corn or coffee (other products popular in Colombia).”

The town is roughly two hours outside of Santiago de Cali, the closest major city. Without easy access to a lucrative market—only a crumbling roadway leads in and out of Toribío—the townspeople’s economic options are limited.

For decades, a civil war has been waged between the Colombian government, paramilitary groups, crime organizations, and guerrillas like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). For small farming communities like Toribío, these conflicts have had devastating consequences. In some cases, farmers in the region were extorted by criminal groups and guerrillas into servicing the illicit drug trade.

Machin and his neighbor start putting their client’s logo (red skin Indian) with tape on pre vacuum-sealed marijuana packs. The logo will help the delivery guys to know who the client is and where to make the delivery so the product doesn’t get mixed or lost during the transportation. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)

Guerrilla groups took advantage of the illicit drug market to fund their warfare, taking control of entire regions of Colombia and preventing the government from implementing social services.

Even if they were given a choice, legal crops aren’t profitable enough to sustain the farmers given their limited market access. In the past, the Colombian governments’ attempts to shut down the farms have resulted in conflict, injury and even death.

“Toribio is an indigenous reservation recognized by the Colombian constitution so this makes it harder for the Colombian government to militarize the zone and destroy the crops,” Says Enriquez. “Toribio also has its own militia called The Indigenous Guard and its formed of brave women, men and children” who use simple weapons to fight guerrillas and military forces off their territory.

For the people of Toribío, one kilogram of marijuana (2.2 pounds), can generate roughly 25,000 to 30,000 Colombian Pesos, or $9 – $11 USD. It’s a meager sum, to be sure. But it’s still the most lucrative option available for many in the region. Cultivators in this region can usually yield roughly 60 kg with a field of 1,000 plants.

While the Colombian government has begun providing a limited number of permits for rural farmers to legally grow marijuana to be used for medicinal extracts, these licenses are often out of reach for the people of Toribio.

“People in Toribio who live in extreme poverty don’t have the time or money to pay for transport to go to the big cities where these classes and permits are given,” Says Enriquez, “leaving them once again in the hands of illegal business and without offering aleatory solutions and, even worse having to compete with new business and investment from wealthy Colombian and International companies.”

Sebastian, born in Toribio is one of the several inhabitants of the municipality of Toribio that grows marijuana illegally in Colombia. he sells his product to local clients who afterward will either sell it nationally or export it to Trinidad & Tobago, Puerto Rico or Panama. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
A woman walks down the street in front of Machin’s house. The town has only one main street that goes to several small houses along the mountain, the terrain is unstable and the methods of transportation are reduced to, motorcycles, two big buses owned by the town and horses. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
The view inside one of the homemade ovens to dry marijuana branches. The electricity is usually stolen from the electric poles by pealing the cables and hanging new cables that will power the oven. This allows them to dry the marijuana in 3-4 days. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
Carlos, 13, carries several marijuana plants on his back and walks towards neighbors house. His neighbor is lending him his oven and will charge him a small commission for the usage. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
Outside of Jose Emilio’s house in Toribio, clothes hang over a marijuana seeder. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
Jose Emilio shows a plant that has been attacked by a fungus that turns the plant yellow and brown. The contamination will make the plant unsellable and it will have to be cut and burned. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
Maria cuts marijuana leaves out of the buds. Clients only buy buds without the leaves which decreases the weight. Cutting leaves out of marijuana buds is a job only for kids and women in Toribio. Men run the sales and cultivation. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
Sebastian checks on the workers to see if they are doing a good job at trimming. While this job is only for women and youth, it is not seen as sexist in the town, but as a job opportunity reserved for mother’s and their children. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
Jose Emilio opens a bag with several kilos of marijuana that have already been weighed and packaged. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
Two big buses that belong to the town go up and down the mountain a couple times during the day. They charge for their service and several people are not able to afford it. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)
View of the mountain in the north of Cauca in Colombia. The vast majority of lights seen in the image belong to marijuana fields. Due to the demand for marijuana in the region, growers set dozens of lights bulbs to maintain constant light on the plants during the first 3 months of growth. (Photo by Nicolas Enriquez)

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