Climate Change Puts Spotlight on the Drought Resistance of Marijuana

Zambia just became the latest country to legalize cannabis cultivation, but there’s a catch: the southern African country is struggling with an unusual weather event that’s making farming difficult.

Zambia is experiencing its worst drought in a century. As world leaders gathered in Madrid for the UN Climate Summit last month, southern Africa was already experiencing some of the harshest impacts of global warming — with some 45 million people in need of food aid amid crop failures. However, in December, Zambia became the fifth nation in Africa to permit cannabis cultivation, and so cannabis farmers there will now have to grapple with the drought.

The leader of Zambia’s Green Party, Peter Sinkamba, applauded the decision. He was quoted by pan-African news site Sahara Reporters saying the move could earn Zambia up to $36 billion annually. “Depending on how properly this is done, this could just change the face of Zambia’s economy,” Sinkamba said.

The conflict between cannabis and climate is a story that is all too likely to become commonplace in the face of climate change. It raises the question about how drought resistant cannabis actually is — and if there are methods of cultivating cannabis with less water that truly work.

How Drought-Resistant Is Cannabis Really? 

An interesting irony is that, because of cannabis prohibition, even the DEA believes that the cannabis plant can survive without much water.

“Marijuana is a very drought-tolerant plant. It’s a weed, and they grow anywhere,” DEA agent Bill Weinman told Denver’s Rocky Mountain News during a dry spell in 2002. “Drought has little effect on pot crops. Plants prove hearty, surpassing yields of state’s other crops.”

This attitude has been mirrored in the hemp industry, which farms a plant that is functionally the same as high-THC varieties of cannabis — except for the fact that they don’t have THC. In the lead up to the passage of the Farm Bill in December 2018, which legalized hemp (defined as the cannabis sativa plant with less than 0.3% THC), many advocates touted the low-water needs of the plant. Advocates boasted that a hemp field can be grown to harvest on about half as much water as needed by an equivalent plot of corn.

“It uses more water at the very beginning of its growth,” Geoff Whaling, chairman of the National Hemp Association, told the Pacific Standard in May 2018. “But once it kind of passes its early development stage — about three weeks — it becomes one of the most drought-tolerant crops on the planet.”

But there’s a trade-off. While it appears that the cannabis plant can survive without much water supply, limiting water intake too much appears to limit harvests.

In a May 2018 report, Hemp Industry Daily reported on the findings of a Colorado State University study, which found that irrigated hemp produced nearly three times more seed than non-irrigated hemp.

Brian Campbell, a doctoral student in soil and crop sciences, grew two test plots at a northern Colorado site — one irrigated consistently, the other receiving only some eight inches of rainfall throughout the growing season. The irrigated plot produced an average of 1,100 pounds of seed per acre, while the non-irrigated one produced about 400 pounds per acre. Campbell’s research led him to conclude that hemp’s water use is actually high compared to other crops.

“There are a lot of myths about this crop, and one of them is that it doesn’t need much water,” Campbell told Hemp Industry Daily. “It’s not that the plant won’t grow,” he elaborated. “But it’s a no-brainer — you should irrigate your hemp plants if you want them to do well in Colorado.”

Dry-Farming Cannabis

However, marijuana growers have also found a way to grow cannabis without additional water through a technique called “dry farming” — that is, cultivation without irrigation. Dry farming is increasingly practiced in Mediterranean climates, with wet winters and dry summers. Farmers work to trap moisture in the soil that continues to supply the plant on its own, rather than needing additional water from irrigation. (In climes that get rain year-round, irrigation is not an issue — though mold might be.)

Mediterranean climates include California, and dry-farming of cannabis is catching on in the Emerald Triangle as a part of the general trend toward sun-grown and organic product. For example, the cultivators at Sunboldt Grown, which began dry-farming a year earlier on its lands in Holmes Flat, Humboldt County, told Cannabis Now in 2018 that they’ve seen success growing cannabis with the innovative method.

“Dry farming is not for the faint of heart,” admitted Sunboldt Grown’s Sunshine Johnston, recalling her fears as she saw her plants suffering under the hot summer sun. But she resisted the temptation to water them, and the results were very satisfactory — high-resin yields with up to 30% THC.  

“I think what I learned last year is that plants actually prefer less water and no fertilizer,” she said. “They really prefer to be on their own.” 

Also, cultivators of both hemp (cannabis without THC) and marijuana (cannabis with THC) have long maintained that some strains are more drought-resistant than others. The website of Barcelona-based Royal Queen Seeds particularly names the indica-sativa hybrid known as “Critical,” popular across the Mediterranean, as sought among outdoor growers for being “very tolerant of high temperatures and dry weather conditions.” 

Diversion of water for illicit cannabis cultivation has long been a strain on Northern California’s watersheds, threatening the survival of salmon and other local wildlife. This is also now an issue for the legal cannabis sector, and if California has another drought like it did in the 2010s, legal cannabis growers will have to adapt.

In the coming years, it will certainly be a challenge for cultivators worldwide to figure out new ways to grow cannabis with less water. 

TELL US, have you ever tried dry farming cannabis?

The post Climate Change Puts Spotlight on the Drought Resistance of Marijuana appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Cannabis in Africa: Will 2020 Be the Breakthrough Year?

People have been growing cannabis in Africa for centuries, and now legal cannabis production has taken hold in some countries on the continent — with several more anticipating an embrace of the new industry on the horizon. Overseas investment is coming in, and recent media reports predict an African cannabis boom in 2020.

The UN Office on Drugs & Crime in its 2007 overview report Cannabis in Africa estimated 10,000 tons of cannabis were produced annually on the continent, entirely on the underground market.

Today, there are now four legal producers in Africa that are now looking to legalize the thriving underground economy. Far in the lead is South Africa’s small and landlocked neighbor, Lesotho. Long a major illicit producer, Lesotho is now aggressively embracing commercial cannabis production as a ticket out of poverty and under-development. In 2017, it issued Africa’s first commercial cultivation licenses, again for the international medical market. Investment has since poured in.

In 2018, South Africa decriminalized personal cultivation via a judicial ruling. That same year, the South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority issued the first licenses for commercial cultivation of medical marijuana — now numbering four in all. In May 2019, South Africa’s health agency rescheduled CBD, clearing the way for the free sale of CBD extract and derivatives in the lead.

Things have moved much more slowly in traditionally authoritarian Zimbabwe, which also legalized medical marijuana cultivation in 2018, by order of the Health Ministry. The last entry is Uganda, where plans for commercial cultivation were held up by demands from conservative cabinet members for a legal review earlier this year. 

Progress is also reported from Malawi, where the government is now cultivating hemp on a trial basis, with an eye toward permitting the production of CBD strains. And Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), another small land-locked neighbor of South Africa, is following Lesotho into a legal cannabis economy, with a bill or legalize cultivation now pending.

The legal logjam halting cannabis cultivation in Uganda appears to have just broken. A report in Taarifa Rwanda indicates the first licenses in Uganda have been approved, with 7,000 hectares now under cannabis cultivation. Among the biggest of 90 firms under license in Uganda is the Israeli company Together Pharma, which intends to export to Canada.  

Media Predict Continental Cannabis Boom in 2020

With a handful of countries moving towards legalization and a flood of international investment hitting Africa’s shores, many media outlets have taken note and started to speculate that 2020 could be a big year for African cannabis.

“With Israel as partner, Africa can turn cannabis into an economic game changer,” read a bullish write-up in the Times of Israel last month.

“With abundant land, an experienced labor force and climates conducive to cannabis cultivation, if legitimized, cannabis could contribute to a continent-wide economic uptick,” the Times of Israel wrote. 

On Dec. 19, the Bloomberg news agency offered a similarly bullish report on the cannabis boom in Lesotho. It notes that since the landlocked kingdom became the first African country to issue cannabis cultivation licenses, foreign investors including Canadian companies Supreme CannabisCanopy Growth and Aphria have “poured tens of millions of dollars into a handful of facilities, drawn by the low cost of production.” 

MG Health, Lesotho’s biggest legal producer, received $10 million Canadian dollars ($7.6 million dollars) from Supreme Cannabis last year in exchange for 10% of the business, which was then known as Medigrow Lesotho. MG Health CEO Andre Bothma told Bloomberg the company plans to employ as many as 3,000 workers locally once it reaches full production in a few years — up from 350 currently. It is now growing a CBD strain, and primarily exporting extract to South Africa, although Bothma said the company also anticipates entering European markets.

“We have first-mover advantage in Africa and we think the market is huge,” the CEO added.

The Bloomberg account emphasized one particular lure of production in Africa: low overhead.

“As cannabis rules loosen around the globe, companies are turning to low-cost regions for supply,” Bloomberg wrote. “MG Health says that even in its start-up phase, it’s producing in Lesotho for about 93 cents a gram, less than the $1 or more per gram that it cites as the norm elsewhere.”

Low production costs have long been a stimulus behind foreign-backed plantation agriculture in Africa — as has land-grabbing

The Specter of Cut-and-Run Capitalism 

Earlier this year, UK-based cannabis industry consultancy Prohibition Partners released its African Cannabis Reportemphasizing a refrain also oft-heard from agribusiness, oil and mineral interests: Africa holds great potential, but “infrastructure and facilities are lacking,” so “implementing new production centers may prove costly and time-consuming.”

This raises the question of whether the cannabis industry in Africa will be more of a responsible player than other industries historically have been. It’s not likely. So far, there have been a few bad signs.

NBC News reported earlier this month on a sobering case from Cameroon, where British firm Trade Park said it had lined up investment from globe-spanning tobacco and drug companies to carve a 154-square-mile cannabis plantation out of the rainforest and bring thousands of jobs to impoverished locals. But things didn’t work out that way.

“Instead, four years after Trade Park Corporation signed its first papers with local officials, there is nothing to show for the project but angry investors, some stakes in the ground and a few dirt roads already being reclaimed by jungle,” NBC wrote. 

Many of the major backers boasted by Trade Park — including German pharmaceutical giant Bayer (controversial producer of glyphosate herbicide) and U.S. tobacco major Altria (reviled makers of Marlboro cigarettes) — told NBC they’d never heard of the project. The residents of the locality where the project was planned, Meyomessala, are clearly bitter.

“Trade Park could not honor its commitments,” Christian Mebiame Mfou’ou, mayor of Meyomessala, wrote to reporters when asked about the project.  

Trade Park’s plans only came to light this month when a huge cache of corporate records was leaked from Formations House, a UK firm that specializes in contriving offshore “shell companies” for shady clients. This drew a flurry of investigations into the affair. 

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project found that locals had been hired to cut roads into the bush for the project in anticipation of a visit to review the site by British investors and a high-level delegation from the Cameroon government. But the company appears to have cut its losses and pulled out shortly afterward — leaving the hired road crews unpaid for their labor. 

“We were all involved in digging roads that made it easy for the delegation to move within the forest,” Mvondo, a member of the local Bulu indigenous group, told investigators. “No one paid us and until today they still owe us.”

Neither the cannabis plantation nor the promised jobs have materialized, and the local people have returned to subsistence farming. 

These revelations from Cameroon come almost exactly a year after all too similar ones from the Democratic Republic of Congo. There was a brief media splash when a Canadian company called InstaDose Pharma was reported to be poised to drive down the price of CBD globally by dumping a vast quantity on the market, produced from hemp grown by cheap labor in the DRC.

“Flying under the radar for the past few months, InstaDose Pharma is ready to hit the market with 2 million liters of CBD oil in 2019,” wrote Canada’s Financial Post on Dec. 27, 2018. “InstaDose Pharma has over 200,000 farmers harvesting cannabis out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on over 100,000 hectares of land.”

The report predicted an imminent drop in CBD prices of over 96%.

Such reports disappeared as quickly as they had come, and no Congolese CBD flooded the global market. Equity Guru website scoffed in a withering headline: “Instadose: When the scam is so brazen that it becomes unintentional comedy.” 

The most credible report that Equity Guru could find — dated Oct. 24, 2018, attributed to Congolese media, apparently posted to (but since removed from) the InstaDose website and now online at Financial News Media — merely said that the DRC’s deputy agriculture minister, Noël Botakile, had “welcomed the initiative.” Not that cannabis was already in production at the sites, named as in Lualaba and Kasai Central provinces. Much less that finished CBD products were ready to go to market.

The DRC, of course, has been wracked for generations now by horrific internal conflicts, making it the site of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Resource extraction under the control of lawless actors has fueled the conflicts — such as the notorious “blood coltan” in your cellphone. The families of children abused in near-slave labor conditions in Congolese cobalt mines recently launched suit against tech companies including Apple, Google, Tesla and Microsoft in the U.S. courts. Israeli firms have been particularly criticized for dealing in “blood diamonds” from other African conflict zones. And Cameroon is also at this moment descending into internal conflict

Those concerned with responsible business practices in the cannabis industry would do well to keep a close eye on Africa. The last thing we want is to be seeing headlines about “blood CBD” a year or two down the line.

TELL US, which country do you think will be next to legalize cannabis?

The post Cannabis in Africa: Will 2020 Be the Breakthrough Year? appeared first on Cannabis Now.

EU Inspectors Reportedly Approve Uganda’s Medical Marijuana for Export

Uganda has reportedly moved one step closer to exporting its medical cannabis, with the European Union signing off the country’s products.

That’s according to the Daily Monitor, which reported Monday that a team of EU inspectors deployed from the Netherlands to the Ugandan capital of Kampala issued a certificate of compliance to Industrial Globus Uganda Ltd.

The certificate, which is valid from August 6, 2019-August 5, 2020, opens the door for the company to begin exporting its cannabis-based products.

Benjamin Cadet, a director for Industrial Globus Uganda, confirmed the approval.

“Control Union Certifications is the EU-mandated body for certification of the medical cannabis,” Cadet said, as quoted by the Monitor. “Now that [the] EU has approved our products—the medical marijuana exports and the entire manufacturing chain—from planting to harvest, we are going to export medical marijuana products made in Uganda to European markets.”

The Ugandan government has been re-evaluating its policies on the production and exportation of cannabis as it looks to join other countries in capitalizing on the burgeoning marijuana industry. According to the Daily Monitor, “at least 50 companies” have applied to join Industrial Globus Uganda Ltd. in the cultivation of medical cannabis. The government is reportedly reviewing these applications as it studies the economic benefits of cannabis.

But the EU’s approval this week signals that it may be a matter of when, not if, the Ugandan government fully embraces medical cannabis. In April, the country secured contracts to export medical marijuana to Germany and Canada. Cadet said at the time that his company, which is working jointly with a company based in Israel, had received at least 20,000 orders for Ugandan cannabis from pharmacies throughout Germany and Canada.

But even as Uganda wades into the cannabis market, Ugandan laws prohibiting marijuana use—both recreationally and medicinally—may be slower to change. Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni has lamented the permitting of marijuana cultivation there and has said that cannabis use is “satanic and will kill the future of our children.”

While countries throughout Europe—as well as cities and states across the United States—continue to open the doors for recreational and medical marijuana use, African governments have been more resistant to change. Zimbabwe, which last year became just the second African country to legalize medical marijuana, announced earlier this month that it is repealing laws prohibiting the production of cannabis as the economically troubled country looks to hemp to replace tobacco as its leading crop export.

The post EU Inspectors Reportedly Approve Uganda’s Medical Marijuana for Export appeared first on High Times.

Zimbabwe Will Repeal Laws Banning Cannabis Cultivation

Seeking to bolster revenue and exports, Zimbabwe will repeal its laws that prohibit the production of cannabis.

The announcement came Tuesday from the country’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, who said that the reform will allow farmers to grow industrial hemp to export. Ultimately, the goal is for hemp to replace tobacco as the southern Africa nation’s leading crop export.

With global tobacco sales slumping from decades of health campaigns and the recent rise of vaping products—combined with the worldwide rollbacks on prohibitions against cannabis and hemp—the change to the laws is a signal that Zimbabwe is looking toward the future.

Mutsvangwa told members of the press gathered in the capital city of Harare, as quoted by Bloomberg, that “the crop can be a good substitute to the leading export crop, tobacco, which is at risk of being banned globally.”

Zimbabwe is mired in one of the deepest economic crises the country has seen in decades, with staggering inflation on food and devastating drought leaving millions hungry. A report from the United Nations last month found that more than a third of households in rural Zimbabwe—amounting to about 3.5 million people—are “dangerously food insecure.”

By early 2020, the report said, 59 percent of rural households, or more than 5.5 million people, will be food insecure.

That crisis has coincided with Zimbabwe’s rollback of anti-cannabis laws, as the cash-strapped and conservative country continues to reconsider its prohibition. In the spring of last year, Zimbabwe became only the second African country to legalize marijuana for medical purposes (Lesotho, the tiny landlocked nation encircled by South Africa, became the first in 2017). But government officials continue to work out regulatory barriers.

Last year, only a month after announcing the new law on medical cannabis, Zimbabwe hit the brakes on its implementation as it worked to comply with a number of United Nations treaties.

Mutsvangwa told reporters on Tuesday that medical marijuana “will take a long time to set up structures.”

In March, Zimbabwe approved the first license for a private cannabis company, Precision Cannabis Therapeutics Zimbabwe, to produce medical marijuana under the country’s new law. As of February, the Zimbabwe government had reportedly received applications from 37 companies to produce cannabis, a number it hopes will only grow.

“The government of Zimbabwe is open for business and welcomes investors in all sectors of the economy, including licensing for the production of medical cannabis,” said Nathan Emery, the chief operating officer of Precision Cannabis Therapeutics Zimbabwe.

The post Zimbabwe Will Repeal Laws Banning Cannabis Cultivation appeared first on High Times.