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Mpondoland Villages Sitting on 4 Ton Cannabis Stockpile as Higher-Grade Commercial Strains Take Market Share

Mpondoland Villages Sitting on 4 Ton Cannabis Stockpile as Higher-Grade Commercial Strains Take Market Share

Brett Hilton Barber

8 May 2022, 22:00:00

Cannabis stockpile building up – 3,8 tons in just two villages!

Constitutional Court Ruling has robbed traditional cannabis farmers of their income

Mpondoland cannabis farmers are worse off than than they were before the historic 2018 Constitutional Court ruling that legalized private cannabis consumption. This is the view of Dutch researcher Tijmen Grooten Wageningen University) who is studying cannabis and development in the prime growing areas of the Eastern Cape. He says cannabis stockpiles are building up in rural villages because recreational-use consumers are switching to higher-quality, commercial strains as they don’t find local landraces up to scratch.

Writing for Cannabiz Africa on 9 May 2022, Grooten says that after the Court ruling, “increasing competition of high-grade cannabis has simply robbedindigenous smallholders from their entire income. Unintendedly, the seemingly progressive government policy has thus negatively impacted the living standards of the resource-poor dagga farmers, especially of those who are entirely dependent on the cannabis. On average, rural households have not been able to sell their cannabis harvest for at least 21 months, which has led to pulling their kids from school. Financial dependence has completely shifted from crop production to child-grants and out of desperation farmers have started to burn their excess cannabis”.

Grooten writes that Mpondoland farmers have been marginalized and don’t understand how the market dynamics have shifted in the past two years.

“Not surprising, by the way, since the National Cannabis Master Plan is not yet translated into the Mpondo language, IsiXhosa. This lack of information also results in it being impossible for these farmers’ needs, wants and desires to be heard. Ultimately they have been and still are, the silent cannabis farmers of South Africa.

“Many farmers still have the false hope that the old market demand for their mediocre cannabis will automatically restore itself. Even more shocking is the inability of these farmers to come up with ideas and strategies to change their own situation. Reasoning from a privileged rational position makes it hard to grasp why smallholders keep cultivating their unsellable crop. The reality of structural poverty brings me a bit closer. Besides illiteracy possibly being at play here, being hungry also results in spending the little energy on the most immediate needs, instead of pursuing the seemingly unachievable dream of inclusion”.

Cannabis stockpile building up – 3,8 tons in just two villages!

Grooten writes that Since farmers have not been able to move their product for 21 months at least, they have started to stock up their Cannabis. The 50kg-bags of cannabis are literally piled up in the clay huts, currently amounting to 51 kg of cannabinoid-containing-plant material per household. For the two villages, this adds up to about 3800 kg of unused cannabis. For the laymen amongst us, this cannabis is ideal for extraction which forms the basis for valuable cannabis-oils and Isolates. Marketed against current rates their crude flower amounts to about R1.1 million, which converts to R21k per household. This amounts to a basic income but there are countless possibilities to add more value if local processing techniques were to become available. Consider this as a financial base-line that can only develop towards higher income.”

Grooten says the current regulatory framework locks small-scale farmers out of the system, they are not organized and have no capacity. He also questions the way the debate has been framed around indigenous cannabis farmers and their plants.

“Within the South African cannabis industry there is a widespread tendency to link indigenous cannabis farmers exclusively to landrace cultivation. The Mpondoland landrace, still referred to as ‘The Transkei’ (TK), is indeed the most dominantly grown strain by smallholder farmers, but this practice is not particularly linked to the Mpondo culture itself. Strikingly, the majority of the farmers that I have spoken to indicated not at all to like cannabis farming!

Farmers clearly explain that they grow cannabis purely for its economic benefits. In other words, for most smallholders cannabis is solely a cash crop and attitudes towards future agrarian change are overwhelmingly positive. The reason why this point is of major importance, is because it debunks the widespread idea that Mpondo farmers want to preserve and protect the landrace against the influx of foreign cannabis genetics. Although this might be a valid concern on its own, the question needs to be asked who is responsible for preserving the landrace genetics. Are these the resource-poor smallholders, despite the plant bringing them no financial or cultural benefit?”

Grooten says Mpondoland farmers have been denied a level playing field. “Although government stresses the importance of pro-poor development, the effort to listen to this farmers’ experiences and aspirations has unfortunately not been taken. Luckily, the momentum is shifting and the importance of target-led development starts to be recognized on national, provincial and local political levels”.

“In their National Cannabis Master Plan, the government has expressed the ambition to develop three cannabis pathways; recreational cannabis, medicinal cannabis and industrial cannabis. However, it is clear that the inclusion of rurally-based smallholders into these pathways is not automatically happening. All these value chains have their own barriers to entry and corresponding challenges for smallholder participation”.

Grooten’s 5 Recommendations on the way forward

  • First and foremost, an inclusive cannabis industry cannot move forward in South Africa without a proper legal framework that regulates the commercialiszation of the plant. This missing piece of legislation currently impedes farmers from earning any kind of income from their current agricultural practices. The government’s goals of economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation cannot be met in this way.

  • A second requirement for a fair and inclusive industry is proper instructions and controls on cannabis-related police work. The ongoing police harassment of cannabis cultivators and traders must stop in order for the industry to develop further.

  • Thirdly, the national government should draft a strategy document exclusively focused on the inclusion of indigenous or resource-poor cannabis farmers. Key aspects that should be included are: a clear definition of what indigenous cannabis farmers are; a quantitative analysis of how many farmers need support and where they are located; an implementation strategy to provide farmers with the basic services (running water, irrigation, electricity and infrastructure) and appropriate market support; a detailed description of how farmers’ representation must be organized; and lastly a thorough analysis on which cannabis pathway (recreational, medicinal, industrial) connects best to the smallholders’ current practices. The possibility of supporting these farmers with crop substitution must be an integral part of the strategy.

  • In order to be able to draft and implement a proper inclusion strategy, the responsible government personnel should educate themselves. It is paramount to understand the complex dynamics of the cannabis industry and South Africa hosts ample institutions who can readily provide the appropriate training.

  • Lastly, the Mpondoland farmers invite the government to come visit them and listen to their needs. In order to effectively execute a pro-poor and inclusive cannabis policy, the needs of these people must be taken as the leading principle.

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