Cape Town - While many were jubilant at the thought of growing and cultivating their own cannabis, small-scale farmers have complained about “food being taken” off their tables.

Many farmers from Pondoland in the Eastern Cape and distributors on the Cape Flats spoke to Weekend Argus about the difficulties they face in feeding their families since marijuana was decriminalised last year.

An anonymous distributor in Nyanga said he has had to cut his stock orders by over 50% in order to keep up with the drop in sales. 

“I can’t order the same amount I use to because I don’t sell as much and as readily as I used to,” he said.

Sukusa Dumezweni from Pondoland in the Makhwalweni village in the Eastern Cape said that the decriminalising of weed had caused more harm than good for most of them as small-scale farmers in the region.

“Sometimes we go for months without any buyers, and that means less money in our pockets. It hurts us because for many it is all we depend on,” said the 70-year-old.

Decriminalisation is not the only problem Dumezweni and her fellow growers face.

She said they wake up at the crack of dawn to harvest their stock and have to be back home by daybreak to evade police.

“If it is not the police, we contend with home-growers, because it is not yet legal to grow weed for mass selling. Police often arrest us and take our stock. Weed used to be a very lucrative business; a 20-litre bucket of fresh weed used to be R1000 or more, depending on the type. But now people can negotiate huge discounts on what we usually charge,” she said.

In Pondoland, growers have been cultivating the plant for more than 200 years, with most of their harvest bound for Cape Town townships and taxi ranks, as well as other South African cities.

The small-scale weed growers in the rural Eastern Cape transport the herb across the country mostly via road, with connections in taxi ranks and bus terminals. Those who are unable to make their own deliveries rely on this mode of transport for their stock.

“Then we have to pay for the transportation of the goods because it is risky to transport it; we are charged a lot of money for it. One of my neighbour’s sons is currently in jail in Durban because he was caught transporting four large bags of weed,” added the farmer.

Meanwhile, popular local strawberry farm Polkadraai will be one of the first commercial cultivators in the country to receive a cannabis cultivation licence from the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority to produce medical marijuana under their trading company Felbridge. It will be one of five companies to receive a cultivation licence in the country.

Last year, the Constitutional Court found that the ban on the private use and cultivation of dagga for such use was unconstitutional.

Ras Eli from Marcus Garvey said that though they were able to sell to people in their community, it had become hard for them to spread out into other communities.

“People use to come from far and wide. We use it mostly for medicinal purposes because as the Rastafarian community we believe in the power of the herb.

“But since early this year we started noticing a decline in the number of people buying from us. We thought it was the economy, but I strongly believe it is because more and more people are growing it for themselves,” he said.

Weekend Argus