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Rhodes and KZN Academics To Begin Mapping South Africa’s Cannabis Plantations in Water Project

Rhodes and KZN Academics To Begin Mapping South Africa’s Cannabis Plantations in Water Project

The Water Commission Project is to get more data on cannabis water use patterns in existing plantations and identify those areas of the country suitable for environmentally sustainable cannabis and hemp cultivation.

Cannabiz Africa

28 December 2022 at 13:00:00

South Africa’s cannabis plantations are to be mapped out in an academic survey to determine the plant’s water use patterns.

The Water Commssion Project (C2021/2022-00442) is an initiative between Rhodes University and the University of KwaZulu Natal. One of the project’s aims are to identify areas for cannabis to be planted in an environmentally sustainable way.

Rhodes University says on its website:

“The proposed project aims to produce new knowledge and information to guide a growing interest in C. sativa in response to the changing legal and regulatory requirements as well as an increasing drive to follow environmentally sustainable development pathways (e.g. bioenergy).

“Distribution maps of the current areas of C. sativa will be produced using high resolution hyperspectral imagery. Additionally, complementary maps of potential target areas for C. sativa, where dual environmental and economic benefits may be recognised, will be produced.”

The main aims of the project, which will run until March 2025, are to:

1. Conduct a scoping review of available literature on the water use, distribution and agronomic management and value chain of C. sativa crops for both fibre and oil production.

2. Map the extent and distribution of C. sativa stands as well as identify suitable growth areas.

3. Determine the water use and yield of C. sativa for either fibre or oil production using field based measurements.

4. Undertake multi-scale modelling of the water use, yield and potential hydrological impacts of C. sativa.

5. Undertake a preliminary socio-economic feasibility assessment based on value chain principals including suitable areas for growth and best management practices.

The University says: “Interest in Cannabis sativa as a feasible, high-value crop for emerging small-scale farmers is growing. Cannabis sativa is a multipurpose crop that can be grown for fibre, seed, oil and medicinal properties, as well as having bioenergy potential, and numerous other environmental benefits such as phytoremediation. Despite being one of the oldest cultivated crops, little is known about the water use of the crop except for the consensus that it is a water thirsty crop".

The rest of this article is taken directly from the Rhodes University website.

“Cannabis sativa is the most extensively trafficked and sought-after illicit drug worldwide. This has led to a great deal of interest in mapping C. sativa to rapidly and more efficiently detect the growth of illicit plantations which can then be destroyed, ultimately resulting in reduced consumption. However, perceptions regarding the use of C. sativa continue to evolve, particularly around its use for medicinal purposes. Thus, improving upon existing detection and mapping techniques has taken on added significance as it allows for the improved planning and management of legalized crops that are regulated within certain countries. Thus, this deliverable identified and mapped bio-climatic regions deemed suitable for C. sativa production in South Africa using limited ground data and literature guidelines on suitable habitat conditions.

Although hemp is well adapted to the temperate climatic zone and will grow under varied environmental conditions, it grows best under warm growing conditions, an extended frost-free season, highly productive agricultural soils, and abundant moisture throughout the growing season.

We conducted mapping suitable growing locations for Cannabis in South Africa using two different methods:

a)      ArcGIS Predictive Analysis Tool using the climate datasets derived from the South African Atlas of Climatology and Agrohydrology, and

b)      Species distribution modelling using high-resolution satellite-derived climate datasets in Google Earth Engine.

The result using the ArcGIS Predictive Analysis Tool (shown in Figure 2) indicates that very limited areas are ideal for growing Cannabis.

The project is supporting three MSc projects, with one of them hosted at IWR (Kamva Zenani), and the other two who are studying at UKZN.

“Water use estimates will be determined through field-based trials, and pot experiments. The field-based trials and pot experiment data will be used to parameterise the AQUACROP model, and national scale model runs will be undertaken to provide simulations of crop yield, water use and water productivity. These will be combined with bioclimatic suitability mapping using the MAXENT model; with the resultant product mapping areas of high to low C. sativa production potential.

These aspects will be included in a preliminary framing document to guide stakeholders at all levels and decision makers across the agricultural, water and development sectors. This project will provide the needed understanding of the production potential of C. sativa and, more importantly, the potential knock-on impacts on the water resources and downstream water availability. Without this knowledge, adequate water provision for citizens and sustainable development could be compromised if continued expansion of C. sativa cultivation occurred.

Project lead: K Smart / SK Mantel

Collaborators: AR Palmer (IWR), S Gokool (UKZN), A Clulow (UKZN), K Chetty (UKZN), S Tesfay (UKZN), T Mabhaudhi (UKZN), R Kunz (UKZN)

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