Low wheat prices, cheap international imports, and eroded soil have created a crisis for farmers in Italy. Some are turning to hemp to save their farms, reports The Guardian. Hemp has been legal for farmers to grow in Italy since 2016. Starting with pilot programs in 2013 cultivating 400 hectares, hemp cultivation in Italy has reached 4,000 hectares as of this year.
In Italy, wheat profits the average farmer 250 euros per hectare. Hemp, however, profits over 2500 euros per hectare and not only is it more profitable, growing hemp is also a boon to Italy’s desiccated soil, eroded after years of growing only durum wheat.
“Years of monocultural wheat cultivation are the problem. It has caused soil erosion, and is at risk of soon making the land infertile. … The cultivation of hemp is a valid opportunity for a diversified farming which can be a good solution for the rebirth of abandoned and less fertile land. The ancient Romans taught us that diversifying crops can help make the land more fertile. I do not know if this will lead to the growth of the agricultural sector, certainly for Italy is a return to the origins.” –Dario Giambalvo, Professor of Agricultural Sciences, University of Palermo, via The Guardian
Until the 1940s, Italy was the largest producer of hemp in the world, cultivating over 100,000 hectares. The invention of synthetic fibers caused a collapse of the world hemp market, however. Following the advent of nylon and other fibers, international drug prohibition further eliminated hemp as a viable crop. Italy signed the Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs — the international treaty that unifies laws on drug prohibition — in 1961.
Many farmers and other Italians hope that, as hemp returns, it will lead to the reduced prohibition of psychoactive cannabis strains and other pharmaceutical advances.