The Cannabis Industry? Cannabusiness? The Cannabis Community? What to call it? Whatever. Point is, prominent icons from the world of pot are starting to talk about landrace preservation.
That’s a good thing.
To date, the biggest corporate foray into the landrace realm was the now-infamous Strain Hunters. Watching the self-proclaimed “King of Cannabis” brought to mind that brutal takedown of Paul Theroux, author of The Great Railway Bazaar: “Certain writers have a style that can best be likened to body odor: irresistible to some, obnoxious to many and apparently imperceptible to the writer himself.” About ten minutes of Strain Hunters was my limit.
So, no more videos of gifting Indian and African farmers with seed that will wipe out millennia of biodiversity and with it their heritage.
Good… At last, a much-needed conversation is happening.
The trouble is, the Cannabis biodiversity crisis is still getting framed as an ethical dilemma over whether “developing country” farmers should be “allowed” to grow hybrids.
The conversation, such as it is, urgently needs to get past this notion that modern hybrid strains are the pinnacle of what can be achieved with Cannabis, and that landraces themselves are a nostalgic dead-end, both of which delusions are very far from the truth.
Steve D’Angelo—who’s doing fantastic work on prison reform—recently posted about Morocco, where biodiversity is already far gone. The hybrids now in use get savaged by botrytis, he notes. But then he makes a questionable assumption: Branchy modern hybrids give a higher yield than the old columnar Moroccan landraces. But has this been studied? I doubt it.
In fact, the advanced high-yield Cannabis cultivars of the future will have a columnar architecture, as do the main phenotypes of the old Mediterranean landraces from Morocco, Lebanon, and Greece. Columnar architecture enables high-density planting and vastly higher total yields.
Current cultivars and planting practices in the West could charitably be described as “suboptimal”. The amount of wasted space caused by branching and distance between plants is astonishing to any crop scientist. That’s before we even get to unnecessary and unecological energy-hog greenhouses.
But even big branchy old-school Sativas can outyield hybrids, as demonstrated by Jamaican scientist Machel Emanuel. Fundamentally, the tropical landraces of the Caribbean, Thailand, and elsewhere are a basis from which cultivars that rival and exceed any modern “strain” can and will be created. If we salvage them before they go extinct.
Whatever the imagined short-term benefits, dumping modern hybrid seed on landrace farmers is not in their interest, still less their children’s.
The catastrophic consequences of bringing nonindigenous seed to regions of Cannabis biodiversity haven’t yet sunk in for most aficionados. Currently, this ecological crisis is seen as merely losing landraces themselves. The conversation is edging closer to part of what that means, i.e. annihilating cultural heritage and traditional products such as authentic Nepali charas and Thai stick. But the bigger picture, the wider truth, is that we’re simultaneously extinguishing a multitude of future possibilities.
Above all, Asian landraces and wild-type populations hold the vast bulk of the genetic diversity of Cannabis. Cultivars, cures, and creations we haven’t even begun to imagine exist there, hidden within them. Right now, with the unchecked spread of hybrids out of the West, we’re not just cutting the ground out from under landrace farmers. We’re destroying the future for ourselves and the plant we love.
It’s time to stop and think seriously about what that means.