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Morocco’s Evolving Cannabis Industry: Droughts and Demands for New Strains Push Farmers to Innovate

Moroccan cannabis is at a turning point. Cannasseurs are demanding new varieties, and the country-which faces farming challenges, due to drought and water conservation issues-will need to change its ways.



Morocco's Evolving Cannabis Industry

This post marks the first in a series on the changing nature of the cannabis industry in Morocco. In upcoming issues of DOPE Magazine, Seshata will team up with an opium and cannabis specialist, geographer Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, to provide our readership with expert, detailed analysis on the situation in the Rif, Morocco’s main hub of cultivation. First, here’s a brief introduction to the changing varieties of cannabis currently grown in the Rif. 

Morocco’s cannabis industry is dramatically changing, and one of the most obvious signs of this shift is in the new varieties of cannabis now grown in the country.

In the last decade or so, the cultivation of new cannabis varieties has dramatically intensified. In this time period, the cannabis seed industry in Europe has developed significantly, and the consumer market has developed a connoisseur taste for new varieties.

Varieties that win awards in the cannabis trade shows and events, such as Spannabis in Barcelona, are now becoming the most popular choices among Moroccan cannabis farmers.

Morocco's Evolving Cannabis Industry

Morocco’s Evolving Cannabis Industry

Among the most cultivated new varieties are Amnesia, Cheese and Critical. These strains in particular make an appearance on multiple farms, and in many cases have completely replaced the traditional kif variety that formerly dominated the hillside fields of the Rif.

While those varieties are extremely well-known, and practically household names in Europe’s cannabis-enthusiast circles, there are plenty of farmers experimenting with even newer and more unusual varieties. We spoke to farmers growing Lavender, Clementine Kush, Papaya, Santa Monica OG, Barbara Bud, Silver Bubble and dozens of other strains.

The hashish made from these new strains often differs significantly from traditional Moroccan hashish, being markedly more aromatic, and often stickier—possibly due to a higher concentrations of terpenes, the fragrant organic compounds that help give cannabis its aroma. Often, these varieties have very different requirements than the traditional kif, Morocco’s historic landrace. Increasingly, farmers are adopting professional cultivation techniques—one of which is large-scale irrigation.

Related – Teardrop of India: The Future of Sri Lankan Cannabis Faces Challenges

In general, the new hybrid varieties now grown in Morocco require considerably more water than the traditional kif variety. Some varieties are very intolerant of drought, and require careful daily irrigation to mitigate against the semi-arid Rif climate. In response to this increased need for water, new irrigation techniques are being practiced, which may involve the digging of ever-deeper wells, or the construction of reservoirs.

The Rif already suffers from severe water stress and frequent droughts, and these practices are likely to put even more pressure on an already-strained water table.

While there are justifiable concerns surrounding the introduction of new cannabis varieties, it’s worth considering that not all modern commercial varieties require particularly large  quantities of water. In fact, there are even one or two breeders who specialize in creating varieties that can tolerate drought and very high temperatures, such as Mandala Seeds in Amsterdam.

In the future, as the new Moroccan cannabis industry develops, we may start to see a shift towards adoption of more drought-tolerant varieties from the vast range of commercial varieties available today. Innovation within the Moroccan industry appears to be at an all-time high, and water conservation needs are likely to become more pressing in future, both due to the increase in introduced varieties and the wider factors contributing to ongoing drought and desertification in the region.

Morocco's Evolving Cannabis Industry

Morocco’s Evolving Cannabis Industry

Due to these factors, we could even see breeding programs between kif and introduced hybrids—which could yield varieties that are particularly drought-tolerant, while also producing higher quantities of resin and fragrant terpenes. There is an emerging trend for sustainable, organic techniques among some of Morocco’s farmers—but as of now, there is little effort to save the rapidly-disappearing kif landrace.

At this stage, the future of the kif is in question, and using it as the basis for breeding improved strains could represent an opportunity for its survival, albeit in an altered form. Otherwise, given the improved yield and quality of hybrid varieties, it seems unlikely that the kif will be seen as a suitable candidate for cultivation at all in future.

As well as choice of variety, improved cultivation techniques may also help considerably to conserve water. In future articles, we will take a more detailed look at some of these new cultivation methods emerging in Morocco today, as well as looking at improved processing and hashish production techniques.

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