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'Hemp Saved Our Business,' Italian Farmers Find Their Way Out Of The Tumbling Wheat Economy

At one time Italy was the world's largest producer of hemp. Now, farmers are reclaiming a traditional crop.

Industrial hemp cultivation was legalized in Italy in 2016 and in a few short years of the the crop's legality, yields have increased tenfold. Hemp has expanded from occupying 400 hectares of farmland to 4,000 today. Many of the farmers benefitting the most from the newly legalized crop previously farmed wheat - an industry that has been threatened in recent years by low prices, desiccated farm land and imports from out of country. But, as Salvo Scuderi, the president of the agricultural cooperative Colli Erei, explains, things are looking up.

"Hemp saved our business," Scuderi told The Guardian. "This year we earned 10 times more than what we used to earn with wheat and it has enabled us to hire four workers."

Today, wheat brings profits of around €250 ($291) per hectare - hemp yields €2,500 ($2907).

The hemp grown by farmers like Scuderi to produce things as diverse as strong, environmentally-friendly bricks and hemp pasta. And while the law requires that all crops have THC levels of 0.2 percent or less, it does not prohibit the sale of flower. This has created another booming industry in Italy for products often called 'cannabis light.'

Scuderi argues the legalization of hemp hasn't only bolstered the suffering agricultural economy but also effectively moves money away from the illicit drug trade.

"It is also a way to weaken the mafia, which for decades has continued uninhibited in its quest to control the criminal business of drugs trafficking, and to give back to the farmers what the bosses had taken away from them."

And with Italy ranking in at number three for the highest cannabis consumption rates in Europe, a legal cannabis trade could also mean big money for their government as well.


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