Low wheat prices, big companies importing grain, and desiccated land are just three of the reasons why farmers in Italy are in a crisis. So what’s a farmer gotta do?
Luckily, for some of them, the solution was simple: grow cannabis.
The great thing about it is that cannabis cultivation in the country has been made legal in 2016. The law now allows the cultivation of cannabis for non-pharmaceutical use with up to 0.2% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is allowed.
This law was specifically introduced in order to increase the production of industrial hemp.
Over the last few years, more lands have been dedicated to cannabis cultivation. The size of cannabis farmlands has gone up from 400 hectares in 2013 to 4,000 now.
Farmers are taking advantage of this legislative change in order to produce not just hemp ricotta and eco-friendly bricks, but also hemp biscuits and hemp pasta.
Roberto Moncalvo, president of the largest farmers’ association in Coldiretti, Italy, told The Guardian that the boom in hemp production is a great example of the agricultural firms’ ability to discover new frontiers. Italy is in the middle of an opportunity for employment and economic growth, he added.
According to Salvo Scuderi, the president of agricultural cooperative Colli Erei in Sicily, hemp saved their business. He said that this year, they earned 10 times more than what they would ordinarily earn with wheat. This also enabled them to hire four more workers.
Scuderi’s hemp harvest will be used to make oil, flour, and pasta. Scuderi and 20 other producers of the association called Rete Canapa Sicilia, which aims to market and promote the use of hemp in their region, have produced a total of almost 150 tonnes.
In today’s market, wheat generates a profit of €250 per hectare. Meanwhile, hemp can yield net earnings of more than €2,500 per hectare.
So it is not surprising if farmers are substituting wheat with hemp in order to improve their economic and financial situation and to breathe life into the extremely dry land.
It turns out, the scorching heat is not the only cause of the land’s desiccation.
According to Dario Giambalvo, University of Palermo professor of agricultural sciences, years of monocultural wheat cultivation are also contributing to the problem. This has caused soil erosion, and could eventually make the land iinfertile.
Giambalvo also told The Guardian that hemp cultivation is a valid opportunity for diversified farming, and this can solve the problem on abandoned and less fertile land. He further pointed out that cultivating diversified crops can help make the land more fertile and that is something the ancient Romans had taught us.
However, Giambalvo clarified that he really does not know whether diversifying crops could lead to the growth of the agricultural sector. What he is certain of, though, is that Italy needs to return to the origins.
It can be recalled that up to the 1940’s, the country was the second largest hemp producer in the world, next to the Soviet Union. Back then, more than 100,000 hectares of land in Italy were used for hemp. However, after the war and after the global move towards synthetic fibers, hemp cultivation plunged. And this downward trend went on as the global campaign against illegal drugs was strengthened.
Scuderi said that hemp has been waiting for six decades to reclaim its rightful place. This, he added, could open the way for the plant species with more than 0.2% of psychoactive substances to be legalized and for pharmaceutical experiments to be allowed.
Italy’s 2016 law does not prohibit the commercialization of hemp flowers, and this is a gap that has allowed for the sale of light cannabis. Usually, these flowers are sealed in bags and can be used for tisanes as a scent for wardrobes. The effect of these flowers, when smoked, are not as pronounced as the one in cultivated cannabis strains, but they offer an instant sense of relaxation.
Scuderi’s company places a label saying “pizzo-free” on their jars of hemp flowers. This means that they made their products without a cent having gone to the mafia.