Natie Fereira, South African farmer
Western Cape-based Natie Ferreira is probably South Africa’s most experienced industrial cannabis farmer. He says years of research, comparing local and international cannabis genetics there’s no question that local varietals do better. He suggested to MPs during the Cannabis Bill presentations on 23 May 2023 that Parliament, adopt an Afrocentric legislative approach, and produce the best Cannabis for All Purposes Bill in the world - even if this took five to seven years.
It’s an absolute privilege to sit here as farmer before a Portfolio Committee of Parliament and I thank you for the opportunity.
I’m only going to comment on the hemp sections of the Bill.
I come from a hemp farming background. We experience with growing industrial cannabis since 2018, first under SAHPRA guidelines and then more recently with the Department of Agriculture. It was purely for research and development purposes that we were doing it and this has given us quite a deep understanding of the complexity of the Cannabis sativa plant and all its products. We have done extensive research through the years of cannabinoid profiling at various stages through the plant’s life cycle of a range of local and foreign genetic material, and these plants were grown through different seasons and in different conditions.
This research has highlighted the complex nature of the plant and the practical implications of tracking cannabinoids throughout the growth cycle of the plant. We also identified a range of desired traits in African cannabis landrace varieties that can compare with any of the best hemp landraces in the world. And I can really vouch for that because that has been our focus right from the beginning, to continuously compare, and sometimes, sort of, umm, bend the guidelines to do that, to continuously demonstrate and plant African landraces as we could get our hands on them and compare them to imported landrace varieties from other parts of the world, and we do find an amazing comparison.
Also, my experience of industrial cannabis overall in the industry, and my understanding of the history and social construct of dagga smoking and farming in South Africa, I would want to make the following comments in specific reference to the amendments that include hemp.
First of all, I think the farming of cannabis for industrial purposes has no place within a private purposes bill. The Constitutional Court Ruling, by interpretation, includes the growing of industrial cannabis for private, non-commercial purposes. You cannot argue with that. If you want to grow cannabis in your own home and that would need one or two hectares of hemp plants, it is covered under the Constitutional Court ruling.
Commercial cannabis farming, in all its aspects, should be seen as primary agriculture and therefore should be regulated by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. In my opinion there’s no botanical or scientific basis to separate the Cannabis sativa plant into different species based on the cannabinoid content.
Industrial cannabis, or hemp, should be defined as a product from the plant, and we need a fresh Afrocentric approach to allow existing genetic material to be legitimized into the formal agricultural system. Our farmers must be able to utilize indigenous and naturalized landraces for industrial cannabis purposes. This will unlock further research and breeding and allow South Africa to export its unique genetics to the world, with the necessary benefits going to those who are most deserving of it, and I honour my colleagues who have spoken before me for the path they have walked in bringing us to this point.
In reference to indigenous farmers I want to bring up the point that hemp is regulated under the Plant Improvement Act. That Act for me, as quite a sophisticated farmer, is a challenging and daunting document, and I just see my colleagues stumbling over it as we go forward, and if it’s going to stay there, we need an extensive agricultural extension programme to implement this out in the fields. I think the industry can be allowed to regulate itself, which includes the continual improvement of genetic material, like we have already demonstrated and proven over the past five years, which we were able to do under the very severe restrictions in which we were able to farm hemp.
I feel that industrial cannabis cultivation should be regulated under the sector that its produced for, grains the grain sector, food and beverages, engineering, textile, traditional medicine, and this includes those aspects of the plant that are for adult consumption, which I feel that it should be regulated like alcohol for now. Because for us in the industry this is a bit of a compromise because we know we can prove less harm, but if we assume the same harm the we can get somewhere in the interim because I rejected the Bill in its entirety and I want to come up with a solution.
Urgently go and find, within existing legislation, those places that can regulate the products of cannabis and regulate adult use cannabis now like you regulate alcohol. It allows us the breathing space really go back to the drawing boards.
I understand the political and procedural restrictions and the timeline we are faced with, but I suggest we go completely back to the drawing board, get some interim guidelines in place, scrap the plant off the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act.
Give government and the private sector, and everybody involved, the space to create a Cannabis for All Purposes Bill that we can compare with the quality of our Constitution, which is something that we are really proud of, all these years later.
We can honestly say out there, we have the best constitution in the world. Can we not use the time in the future, even if its going to take five to seven years to come up with best Cannabis for All Purposes Act in the world.
Thank you for the opportunity.