Finally, prominent icons from the world of pot are starting to talk about landrace preservation.
To date, the biggest corporate foray into the landrace realm has been 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. Hopefully, we’ll see no more videos of gifting Indian and African farmers with seeds that wipe out millennia to millions of years of biodiversity and with it the farmers’ heritage…. And don’t hold your breath, but a much-needed conversation may also be starting.
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.
Aside from the obvious, 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 DeAngelo—who’s begun what could prove to be fantastic work on prison reform—recently posted about Morocco, where biodiversity is already far gone. The hybrids now in use get brutalized by botrytis, he notes. But then he makes a questionable assumption: Branchy modern hybrids give a higher yield than the old columnar Moroccan landraces. Plant for plant this seems self-evident. But I wonder if this has been studied field for field.
Because the advanced high-yield Cannabis cultivars of the future will in fact have a columnar architecture, as do some variants of the old Mediterranean domesticates such as 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.
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 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 farming communities. Straightforwardly, we’re destroying possible futures for Cannabis and, of course, ourselves.