Women dagga growers unite for legalisation

Rural network, which beat poison sprays, now to lobby parliament

Women farmers whose dagga and food crops were poisoned from helicopters in 2015 have formed an organised, 100-strong network.
This emerged this week when the Umzimvubu Farmer’s Support Network (UFSN), an NGO that represents 100 Pondoland women growers, announced that it would be lobbying for the state to legalise, license and regulate dagga farming.
The network was apparently vociferous at the SA Drug Policy Week Conference in Cape Town last week.
On Thursday, in an interview with the Dispatch, the network’s Greekson Zweni listed some economic benefits of the controversial crop and accused police of shaking down the women for bribes.
Police spokesperson Captain Dineo Koena said on Thursday she was unaware that there were police officers who solicited bribe money instead of arresting those in possession of dagga, but said people who felt victimised had a right to open a case with the police.
Chief Luthando Dinwayo, of the Manhlaneni Tribal Council in Umzimvubu, agreed with the network that corrupt police officers continued to harass the small farmers.
He said women would often pay the bribe to avoid arrest. “They are treated like criminals yet they are merely finding ways to live and feed their families. These people live in abject poverty and depend on this crop,” he said.
Dinwayo said the state should consider what it could do for these farmers, some from such remote areas they had not yet heard it was now legal to possess and grow dagga.
Last week, the Dispatch reported on a letter from national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole advising senior officers to use their discretion when arresting people for dagga possession or dealing.
Sitole said the September 18 Constitutional Court judgment legalising dagga for personal use did not specify how much a person could possess.
He said officers were not to arrest anyone unless there were other reasons such as possession of other types of drugs or illegal weapons. Officers were to open a criminal case only when there was reasonable suspicion that a person was dealing in dagga, which remained a criminal offence. Suspected dealers had to be brought to court by means of a summons or written notice.
Zweni said: “Women make up the biggest number of cannabis growers but they are mistreated by police to the point that one would expect that kind of treatment to be meted out to a man. They confiscate the crop and money without following proper procedures because women are seen as meek and as not knowing any better.
“Even after the decision to decriminalise it people are still being targeted.”
He said it was time for the state to commit to a policy to license and regulate growing of the crop. While parliament took its time with legalising dagga, large international growers were already producing new strains of the plant and improving their farming and marketing, and these imports would out-compete local growers, he warned.
Zweni said on the plus side, “the poor will be producing big money, which will boost the economy”.
“Farmers need help to develop skills in more than just growing and selling the crop.
“The government and others in the industry should help local farmers develop skills and methods to process the crop, increase the range of products and market them.”
Zweni told the Dispatch on Thursday that their members were women because most households in the Pondoland were run by women. He said women and children left behind by the urban migration of their menfolk worked the hardest as local growers. “They do the farmwork, even though they are not salaried employees, making them cheap labour.
“The government in developing policies in these communities has to focus on the improvement of the lives of rural women, who are the most excluded from economic participation in the country.”
Zweni said cannabis was the only viable crop in Pondoland.
He said the drought had decimated their maize, beans and pumpkins but the cannabis was still able to produce a crop – the only one strong enough to withstand the drought.
He said the UFSN network was formed after police had sprayed the cannabis crops and no one had stood up for them.
“This NGO has lawyers helping it now – lawyers and other NGOs.
“Through this network we fought the spraying, which had been happening for years, and we saw this practice stop,” he said...

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