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Terroir: South Africa Should “Own Dagga” Like France “Owns Champagne”

Terroir: South Africa Should “Own Dagga” Like France “Owns Champagne”

One of the cannabis presentations to Parliament last week was by social anthropologist Etienne van Zyl, who raised the concept of “terroir” in relation to “dagga”. If France can appropriate the Champagne brand for the Champagne region in that country, shouldn’t South Africa to the same with “Dagga” in order to protect our landraces and genetic Intellectual Property?

Cannabiz Africa

30 May 2023 at 05:00:00

Terroir is mostly associated with the wine industry and speaks to the specific conditions a grape is grown in, most importantly the region, soil and environment that makes it unique.


Social anthropologist Etienne van Zyl, who has been studying the cannabis industry for the past three years, told MP’s on the Justice and Correctional Services Portfolio on 24 May 2023, that it was scientifically incorrect to treat hemp and cannabis as separate plants, and that it was more helpful to look at the end use: in the case of “hemp” it would be more appropriate to call it “industrial cannabis”.


Van Zyl went further and said South Africa should look more closely at terminology and how it could benefit traditional cannabis communities.


“Terroir is a complex concept according to which the typicity of a product is determined by both its natural and cultural environments and that a landrace is a domesticated form of plant (or animal), that due to isolation, has adapted to its natural and cultural environments”, he said.


“In more complex terms, one can say terroir is how an expression of non-genetic factors, such as environmental or cultural factors, impact the genotype as well as the phenotypic plasticity of a given cultivar, and most especially in the long run, a landrace.”


“Typicity” van Zyl explained, was affected by the physical and biological environment (soil, climate, interaction with livestock), crop specificity and diversity, and collective production knowledge (including social and political dynamics) that evolves over time.


“All of these elements come together as ‘terroir’ he said.


Van Zyl pointed out that South Africa had its own handful of cannabis landraces that had been shaped by natural and cultural dynamics for over a century


Landraces are more sustainable than other varieties because they have been selected local pest and drought resistance as well as their preferred effects for use it traditional medicine or for herbal effects.


He said livelihoods and traditions that rely on landraces are at great risk should the Cannabis Bill be enacted. 


He said Government should rather work with the communities that have developed this indigenous knowledge and unlock the value of what existed, rather than trying to impose a hemp regime. 


He said South Africa’s landraces were valuable intellectual property, the benefit of which, should accrue to the generators of that IP.

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