Do ‘Landrace Farmers’ Need Modern Hybrid Strains?

Finally, “icons” from the world of pot are starting to talk about landrace preservation.

To date, the biggest corporate foray into the landrace realm is 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.

“The father of the legal cannabis industry” – as he was dubbed by, uh, his lobbyist – Steve DeAngelo 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 doubt 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.

15 responses to “Do ‘Landrace Farmers’ Need Modern Hybrid Strains?

  1. In America we have a generation or two of young people who don’t care about quality or craft. I see them as the microwave kids. I want it faster and stronger. Dabs, dabs, dabs! The market pushes economic direction.
    Outdoor and greenhouse growers are your fundamentalists and preservationists. Indoor growers are your microwave growers. Cycle times and quantities are king. Give it a cool name and throw as much hype at it as possible!
    Exaggerated numbers of thc and cbd rates has created a Pinocchio effect for competition. Legalizing home growing is crucial for preservation of genetics.

    Small groups worldwide have to carry this cross. The greed of entrepreneurs only focuses on microwaves.
    Peace farmerlion

    • Hey, great to hear from you. Multiple solutions are needed. Ex-situ conservation in places like the Millennium Seedbank is the most urgent. In-situ projects in countries like Nepal and Thailand. Projects by private companies in Canada or wherever. And cultivation by hobbyists worldwide. All have a crucial role to play.

  2. What do the landrace farmers actually want to achieve overall? Is it quality, or quantity, culture or profit? It might be there’s differences of opinion between different areas of cultivation, some farmers will want to earn as much money as possible with preservation being unimportant. Others will want to earn money but also preserve the heritage with other opinions in between.
    Its legal status makes a huge difference because whilst its still illegal in many countries coordinated efforts to preserve are very difficult.
    We in the west like to bemoan the lost biodiversity of landrace cannabis in places like India, Thailand etc but im not sure we really stop to think why do the farmers even cultivate it in first place.
    Be interesting to hear what the farmers of Afghanistan etc have to say on the matter.

    • Hi – thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s really great to see this conversation happening.

      In reality, the Cannabis biodiversity crisis is only getting discussed in a narrow section of academia and the landrace aficionado niche. That’s about it right now.

      The book on Cannabis I’m currently putting together is constructed around the words of landrace farmers themselves, collected in interviews over many years. So the importance of what marginalized farming communities experience, need, and want is my primary focus in all this.

      Most landrace farmers are small-scale subsistence farmers. Economic realities are such that the appearance of “choice” here is illusory.

      I can see the temptation to frame this ecological catastrophe as a question of landrace farmers “wanting” to grow hybrids. On the face of it, that appears to be a good liberal argument about freedom and equality of opportunity. Conveniently, it also absolves those continuing to spread hybrid seed out of the West from any sense of culpability – or from having to think about the profound inequality in their relationship with these farmers.

      The economic reality is of course fundamentally not one that entails any real choice. Precisely these arguments about apparent “choices” are used to excuse the Western colonial era: “Indians “chose” to buy cheap industrial textiles dumped on them by the British. So, Indians “chose” to destroy their own textile industry”. Similar arguments were made by tobacco corporations when it started to become clear smoking causes cancer. Similar arguments are made today by Monsanto.

      Currently in Asia, there are two types of place where you find hybrids. Where tourists go. And where there’s access to the Internet and people who can afford to buy hybrid seed online, with the cards to do it. Again, this story is fundamentally about economic inequality. The people giving farmers the seeds are from outside their communities and come from vastly more privileged classes, whether they’re Western tourists, say, or kids from nearby cities .

      Whatever short-term gains growing hybrids may bring these farming communties, the ultimate consequences are profoundly destructive for everyone. The communities’ heritage, wealth, resources are destroyed, taking with it not just authentic products such as real Nepali charas but also a multitude of possible future indigenous cultivars. The vast majority of the genetic diversity of Cannabis as a species is simultaneously annihiliated. Everyone loses.

      Imagine a man dying of hunger. Before him is a bowl of gruel. At the top of a distant mountain is a banquet. He can choose one meal. How honest is it to say that he “chose” the gruel?

      All best,


      • Angus my nephew made me watch strain hunters, i think its a torture method they use in g bay etc. The king, what a man and his companions ha ha, theyre extremely intelligent and no ego, theyre not narcs, no way ha ha. I love what youre doing as it is love and thats what makes us and keeps us living. I saw that body builder guy, omg. Anyway youre the only genuine person and you helped feed the people starving in the h kush region, thats pure love. I dont care about money and profit, we need community and healing. We have turned a corner and I’m so glad youre a voice of reason and love. Youre the only intelligent person I see writing about this topic, researching and I just love the history lessons. What I noticed on strain hunters were lots of dopey people growing weed and doing weird things, like growing them in tyres, toxic fn tyres ha ha, in jamaca where they had lots of room and just no benefit to the tyre weirdness. I am gentle to my plants and everything, and I am a wildlife carer, compassion is everything and I feel for the poor afghanis and poor pakis.

  3. I shall support landrace farmers and seedbanks by growing at home and no longer purchasing bud from dispenseries that arent even as good as old school mexican brick weed. Sorry kids but your hybrids are weak and cant do the job for me or my family. The benefit of growing your own is shutting the whole world out. You get what you want while others can stick with their sucky hybrids.

    To me the only hybrids worth your time would be the hippie strains. Anything modern is garbage and hince why i grow my own. You cant rely on others to do the correct thing so you have to do it yourself. Want to try a thai? Grow your own because the industry wont (grow it at all and wont cure it properly ever) Acapulco Gold got your interest after cheech and chong? Grow your own because humanity is incapable of overcoming greed and short sighted thinking (history shows this).

    If you want it than you grow it because your fellow dispensery wont carry it whatever it is you like. They will stop carrying your favorites and keep catering to those who DONT KNOW ANY BETTER. Want medicine you can guarantee there are next to no pesticides, poop, mold or bacteria the weed you get? Have a serious medical condition too? Only answer is homegrown organic weed. Dispenseries (most) will not test for many molds, chemicals and bacterias and your probably smoking them (the fire doesnt always kill them either). All in the name of people trying to become famous with their strain and rich at the expense of everyone else. Greed never makes a product good. It destroys lives, genetics and intellectual properties. If you can grow, than you dont have to suffer under the bondage that is greed. You can break free from the weak rule of these dumb greedy human animals and provide for yourself while cutting their funds off.

  4. We love you ha ha, so true and a mate went to canada and said all the weed in the dispensories wasnt as good as mine, but it was a hybrid, critical mass. Most people dont know how plants grow and chemistry and biology. Weed is easy to grow and all they see is $ and as weed is easy to grow they get it done but they dont know what theyre doing and weak lights, crap propagation. They need sun, soil, lots of nutrition, love, connection, they know who’s who. The only issue outdoors is the rain really, throw up a little awning before you pick. Often here we get big rain events at harvest time.

    • Thanks man, just saw this now, sorry about the slow response. I share you doubts about the current techniques in use by farmers in the West, especially irritating when said “experts” then pour scorn on traditional techniques like how Himalayan farmers seed plants (for essential food) and let weedy populations grow (confers hardiness at altitude)

  5. Nothing but praise for your efforts, Angus – eager to see your book in my hands. I see what’s happened in the west with foodcrops: flavor and nutrition sacrificed to the corporate objectives of the conglomerates – and I’ve seen much the same happen with the ‘modern’ strain-of-the-week faddishness…sickens me to contemplate the same level of destruction being wreaked on the ancestral stores of cannabis genetics.

    One of my goals for next year is to begin small-patch cultivation / in-situ breeding: attempting to duplicate natural plant-patch development. Single-strain landrace only. If the property is large enough and the terrain friendly to the effort, I plan to extend the effort to other strain-specific patches. I will be relying heavily on your work for my base genetics…for which we all owe you great thanks.

    • Thanks for the very kind words, sincerely appreciated. What we collect for better or for worse is what farmers are growing now. Increasingly, I’m confident that most of what we are collecting is representative of the authentic traditional domesticates. In other words, with a little work using the accessions from Central Laos, for example, it will be possible to resurrect the classic Isan ganja from the ‘Thai Stick’ heyday, and the same with the exceptional plants from accessions from Afghanistan, Nepal, and so on. We shall see…

  6. * In the 1920s they start to use petrol fueled machines. Now every vegetable, fruit or tuber has a gasoline cost and dependency.
    * In the 1930s the first synthetic fertilisers are being produced and pushed on the farmers. Making them dependent and slowly poisoning the ground and water underneath (several nitrogen crisis)
    * In the 1950s the first wave of pesticides are ready and again it’s heralded as the end all be all of farming.
    * In the 1970s seed companies start to produce, patent and monopolise seeds (Intellectual Property).
    Now the circle is complete and every farm is a business with dependencies on all 4 products.

    And now we’re here in 2020 at a tipping point !
    We all need to relearn how our grandparents used to farm ASAP !!! This isn’t only the case for cannabis although it does suffer tremendous blows compound added unto it via the UN and NATO’s shortsightedness and protection of what can only be described is Western Imperialism.

  7. Excellent work! I just stumbled on this page. I grow landrcae varieties organically outdoors because I believe the quality of the high is better. I think the new hybrids are strong but lack character; any hybrids I’ve had were mentally foggy and confusing. I’d rather smoke or vape a pure landrace like Zamal or Sinai because those varieties give a smoother more euphoric high. I’ve given up trying to explain to younger people the difference and they don’t get it. It would be nice if RSC could find more of those obscure landrace sativas from all continents, but what you’ve accomplished so far is simply amazing. The Mango Carrot Zamal I grew this year turned out to be the cleanest and clearest high I’ve ever had in my 62 years. Would love to see Reunion Island cannabis on the RSC list. Keep up your great work.

    • Thanks Eddy, much appreciated. We don’t double-up on collecting already done by other groups, because the most important thing is to get everything covered asap, before Internet seed banks destroy everything. Unfortunately, meanwhile, most groups have doubled-up on the collecting we have already done, rather than focus on original destinations and regions.

  8. I saw the Strain Hunters Africa last night before seeing this post. My first thought was that the modern seeds he was giving out would ruin the old local lines (despite his statements to the contrary). While watching, it occurred to me that ruining the local lines could be his intent. He repeatedly bragged that he’s doing something other breeders are not doing. He talked about “his” seed library. I got the impression that his preservation has a lot more to do with gaining a competitive advantage than it does with helping the farmers, or keeping the genetics available to the community.

    Aside from your group, what other groups are doing a good job preserving these genetics?

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