Thousands of local inhabitants grow Cannabis to replenish family diets,pay school fees or treat sick animals
Police helicopters in South Africa are spraying toxic glyphosate herbicide along the country’s biodiversity-sensitive Atlantic Wild Coast to kill Cannabis (Marijuana) drug crops farmed by poor communities, thus making watchdog ecologists furious.
“Police helicopters are mounting, spraying toxic Kilo Max herbicide to kill illegal cannabis fields along the Wild Coast. This war on the environment puts poor communities’ health at risk;” says Dr. Dereck Berliner, an independent ecologist and one of South Africa´s most known biodiversity experts.
For a start, the Wild Coast is a stretch of South Africa´s Eastern Cape province along the Indian Ocean. It is birthplace to luminary South African citizens like Nelson Mandela. Crucially, the Wild Coast coastal forests carries some of the world´s most precious plant and bird ecosystems. It is home to over 1000 tree and grass species that science has not discovered in the past, says Vanessa Black of Earthlife Africa, a South African based chapter of the global lobby Earthlife.
The Wild Coast is loosely referred as South Africa´s “Cannabis cultivation capital.” However, the picturesque Wild Coast also forms the belt of South Africa´s poorest province. South Africa´s Human Research Council says that the Wild Coast’s tribal inhabitants are blighted by lack of proper schools, loss of vital skills, homes headed by elderly women, inadequate clinics and roads that are impassable in the rainy season.
So, thousands of local inhabitants grow Cannabis to replenish family diets, pay school fees or treat sick animals, says Narend Singh, a law maker in South Africa’s parliament who is fighting to have the crop completely legalized for medical purposes.
“In the Wild Coast, dagga plants are mixed with home-made compost and water to make the yield denser and the leaf stronger. At ($70) per kilogram in local merchant markets, dagga brings more than food to family tables,” he says.
This innovation in poverty puts communities at war with the South Africa Police Service who take advantage of the Wild Coast remoteness to mount air raids on community Marijuana fields.
According to Dr. Berliner, the deathly problem is this: police are using a herbicide called Kilo Max to kill Marijuana fields. This genetically modified herbicide was created by Monsanto to kill weeds and plants. It contains glyphosate ingredient – which is considered so toxic that the European Union, Sri Lanka and Brazil have banned it, according to an Ecowatch report in 2016. http://www.ecowatch.com/eu-bans-glyphosate-co-formulant-monsanto-1917259116.html
“This toxic herbicide is infecting food crops in the area, ruining soil, making poor farmers and families dependent on Monsanto chemical fertilizers and herbicides forever,” Dr. Berliner tells this reporter. “Police must end their obsession with Marijuana.”
The spokesperson for South Africa National Police, Brigadier. Hangwani Muladzi denies these accusations. “We don’t endanger rural communities. The amount of Kilo Max herbicide sprayed by our helicopters is so tiny that it only kills the dagga plant and vanishes afterwards.”
“This is misleading,” fumes the ecologist Dr. Berliner. “GM glyphosate is a tough herbicide. It staggers and stays in local biodiversity like water, soil and diet crops like maize. This has a deadly effect on local food eco-systems.”
More chillingly, this herbicide sparks respiratory problems, neurotoxicity, skin irritations, eye lesions, bioaccumulations in the tissues of humans and livestock according to Lerato Madhumo, president of South Africa´s Nurses Indaba Forum, a medical non-profit that offers free primary healthcare to poor schools and clinics in the Wild Coast.
“The communities on South Africa´s Wild Coast are poor and painfully unaware of this risk,” she says. “Police sprays are a menace on an already bad situation.”
A study by the respected Rhodes University confirmed the devastating impact of police sprays of Kilo Max herbicide. www.acbio.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Roundup-Environmental-impacts-SA.pdf
According to the South Africa Young Nurses Indaba Forum, the Wild Coast has some of South Africa’s highest incidences of HIV infection at 32% prevalence rate compared to the national average of 29%.
“Inhaling herbicides causes severe disruptions to the muscles and immunity, and immunity of the sick. Consider that this is South Africa’s poorest province where access to protein or carbohydrates food is a difficult. The stage is set for danger,” adds Lerato Madhumo, the head of the Young Nurses Indaba.
Anele Bhodo, a tribal chief whose jurisdiction covers 1000 families along the Wild Coast, is angry about police herbicide sprays. “Cattle are dying, our children walk 15 kilometres to school, jobs are scarce, roads to clinics are impassable in the rainy seasons, these dagga fields are a backup source of income. If you spray them, our people cough from the toxic fumes.”
One such victim is Polani Qimba, 68. She is a Marijuana grower who uses the crop to keep in school the four orphans she is raising after her eldest son passed on from HIV. “This crop has been my livelihood until police helicopters ruined my life.”
She says in December 2016 police helicopters sprayed and wiped out the entire Marijuana crop in her garden. “And wiped out my health too.” She now spends all her days, sitting by her door, unable to stand up or till the fields. “I can’t even brew tea. My doctors told me my lungs are weak after inhaling poisonous herbicide dust.”
“Growing Marijuana, though illegal, is a vital backup activity in extremely poor rural settings. Police should consider the impact of heavy-handed sprays before calamity falls on Wild Coast animal and human ecosytems,” concludes Dr. Berliner.
By Ray Mwareya, images by Groundup Charity, South Africa
Originally Published in Weed World Magazine Issue 137