Hemp farming in South Africa
Hemp - the innocent version of Cannabis sativa - is one of the oldest agricultural crops known to mankind yet it is steeped in controversy, mostly due to modern ignorance. Hemp farming in South Africa is receiving renewed interest due to the crop's versatility and increasing public appeal to the government to review its cannabis legislation.
Hemp is a type of Cannabis used for its fibre, cannabinoids and highly nutritious seed. It has a very low content of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) known to have psychoactive effects and cause a 'high' in those who ingest it. The levels of THC in hemp strains vary according to governments' regulations worldwide and range from 0.2% up to 1%. In short, the level of THC in a plant will determine whether it is 'hemp' or 'marijuana'.
The Medicines Act allows South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to issue a licence to manufacture either a medicine such as CBD oil but a hemp growing permit is issued by the registrar of the Plant Improvement Act (PIA). Application forms for hemp farming can be found on the DALRRD website (www.dalrrd.gov.za) under the 'Plant Production' link.
Uses of hemp
Hemp is a fibrous plant of which the stalks, leaves, seeds and flowers are all utilised.
Hemp stalks contain short fibres (hurd) and long bast fibres. Hurd pulp is used for paper, building material and as a fibreglass substitute. In fact, on the same size of land, hemp will yield four times more paper than trees. Longer hemp fibres are made into products as varied as rope, diapers, nets and fine fabrics. CBD oil is extracted from the vegetative parts.
Leaves are eaten fresh, used as animal bedding and mulch while hemp seeds are used as a superfood or for extracting hemp seed oil. The seeds contain 25% protein, 30% oil and 15% insoluble fibre. Hemp seed oil has a variety of uses including in paints, cosmetics and foods. The resulting seed cake (after oil extraction) can be used as a protein-rich ingredient in animal feeds.
Hemp also has significant environmental benefits which include biosequestration of atmospheric CO₂ to biomass and remediation of contaminated soil. Hemp absorbs and accumulates heavy metals like lead, nickel and cadmium (phytoremediation).
Growing of hemp
Hemp is an easy to grow crop which fits well into the regenerative farming model. It helps build soil and works well in a crop rotation system with, for example, soy and lucern.
Summer rainfall areas where irrigation water is cheap is first prize, says Natie Ferreira of tamatie, a cannabis consulting company in Paarl. Hemp can survive with little water but benefits greatly with rain or irrigation, he says.
Hemp prefers a well-drained soil with a pH of 6.3 and can be planted as soon as daylight exceed 12 hours - from end September to mid-November in South Africa. It is a light-sensitive crop - shorter days, less vegetative growth. In other words, hemp responds to the decrease in day length by initiating flowers.
He reminds new hemp farmers to select seeds depending on the need for the final product for example the production of hurd for architectural and building materials.
Permits are site-specific, so new hemp farmers should already have a planting area ready before applying for a hemp growing permit, he recommends.
For advice on cultivating hemp contact Natie Ferreira at email@example.com
or on +27 83 578 7619
Author Marinda Louw Coetzee, Agri journalist