Traditional ganja farmers left waiting, while formal medicinal ganja players reap rewards

Traditional ganja farmers are crying foul play after the Alternative Development (AD) Project which was designed to include them in the formal medicinal ganja industry was put on pause.

The AD Project, which was announced in July 2019, was touted as the vehicle which the Government would use to transition traditional ganja farmers from an illicit framework into the regulated environment. The project is under the purview of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), an agency of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce (MIIC).

The pilot project was active in two communities: Accompong Maroon Town in St Elizabeth and Orange Hill in Westmoreland. It was an 18-month project which ended in July last year.

Since then, the project has stalled. Speaking at a meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) on July 7, chief technical director at the MIIC, Michelle Parkins, blamed COVID-19 for the hold up.

“The continuation of the programme has been delayed because we have had to direct the resources, financial, human and otherwise, to deal with the COVID-19 impact and it has also been stymied by the need to interface and interact with the farmers on the ground and because of the curfew restrictions and quarantine protocols a lot of the work in that area was stymied,”said Parkins.

It means that a number of small ganja farmers have been left in limbo as they wait to be given their piece of the pie in the formal industry.

Nevertheless, the ministry did manage to make gains while the project was active. Parkins noted that “there was cultivation and transfer of the cultivated products to downstream buyers in Accompong.”

However, she admitted that the programme in Orange Hill did not get off the ground because of an issue regarding access to land.

PAAC member Fitz Jackson said he was distressed with the news that the programme has been delayed.

“It only indicates why these traditional farmers, many of them feel hopeless...if this is how we go about it they have no place in the reopened economy. There's no point in going into a pilot that has four or five or six critical elements and those are not in place before you use it in a pilot, it's doomed to fail before it starts.” Jackson stated.

He said there's distrust among small farmers as to whether there is any sincerity in the programme.

The chief technical director said, “We are looking to develop a mother farm pilot programme for the transitional permit which is suppose to align the small farmers with a larger buyer to allow them to be able to qualify for a tier one permit”

She also noted that steps are being taken to resolve the land issue in Orange Hill and it is expected that Orange Hill will come back on stream once that matter has been settled.

BY ANDREW LAIDLEY Senior business reporter

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