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Matter of Urgency! Protect Our Genetics, Establish a National Cannabis Seedbank

Create cannabis seedbank or lose our intellectual property

South Africa’s biggest immediate challenge in developing a cannabis economy is to establish a National Seed Bank. Failure to do so with lead to the loss of our unique genetic strains, a process which is well underway.

That’s the harsh reality that’s easy to counter by changing the wording in the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act, which prohibits any legal registration of cannabis seeds. That’s the message from Jordyn Murcia of GSR Consulting, who told the CTAA webinar on the legislation crisis on 21 September 2021: 

“Seed is where it all begins. We are creating a massive hole in the country by not legally protecting our landraces. Our genetics are being taken overseas and registered there. To enact the legislation to change this immediately is our biggest challenge”.

 

Gauteng govt committed to creating its own cannabis seedbank

The Gauteng government says registering a cannabis seedbank is a core part of its “green industrialization” strategy. In a presentation delivered on his behalf during a cannabis stakeholder webinar on 22 September 2021, Agriculture MEC Parks Tau was all in favour of a “registry of seeds”. 

“The government will provide seeds to new small scale farmers; we want to breed new cannabis strains, including hemp. Our plans are to include illegal dagga farmers and provide them with seeds and grants to grow their crops.”

But he too conceded that nothing could progress without the Department of Justice’s co-operation in redrafting prohibitive laws.

 

Biopiracy a real threat to SA cannabis intellectual property

In an interview with Cannabiz Africa on 16 September, Ayanda Bam who is an advisor to the National Cannabis Master Plan, said biopiracy is a real threat and that the country had already lost the intellectual property of strains such as Durban Poison: “It’s a little strange that South Africa does not yet allow for the protection of SA genetics; it’s being neither pro-poor nor pro-commercialization”. Bam says protection of South African landraces is seen as a priority in the NCMP, but the challenge is to for someone in government to take ownership of cannabis reform and create an enabling regulatory environment.

The Eastern Cape Government appealed to Parliament on 31 August 2021 to protect South Africa’s genetics. In rejected the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill. MP Mdaqubela said the law should protect genetics rather than criminalize people. 

“South Africa is home to famous landraces like Mpondo Gold, Transkei Gold, Rooibaard, Swazi Gold and Durban Poison” he said. “These genetics are naturalized, drought-tolerant and should form the basis of our cannabis research and industry” he said.

“The strains represent important intellectual property and plant breeders rights and any cannabis bill should seek to protect our cannabis heritage as a matter of urgency”.

At the same parliamentary hearing, Brett Kanichowsky of California-based GSR Consulting said that South Africa’s landraces were economically important:

“They grow well, they are strong, they won’t bring viruses into the country”.

He said the registration of genetics in South Africa could also generate revenue for the fiscus, but more importantly would form the foundation for the development of a legal cannabis industry.

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