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Cannabis is a significant crop for commercial and small-scale agricultural cultivation due to its significant interactions in an agricultural landscape. Cannabis has numerous agro-ecological relationships which support the biodiversity of agroecosystems. However, O’Brien and Arathi (2019:1) make a point by identifying that Cannabis is a relatively new crop under scientific enquiry and thereby: “the ecological value has not been explicitly investigated”. Aliferis and Bernard-Perron (2020) coined the term ‘Cannabinomics’, describing the nature of the cannabis industry and how this new industry will become an extensive and dynamic industry.

Agricultural landscapes must attempt to decrease the negative effect on environments with complex systems of indigenous pollinating insect life. Hemp does not have nectar, yet the male (staminate) hemp plant provides an abundance of pollen, which are vital nutrients for honey bees, pollinating bees and other pollinating ecosystem agents (Flicker, Poveda and Grab, 2019) (O’Brien and Arathi, 2019). Male hemp plants grow taller than female plants and release large quantities of pollen for up to six to seven weeks. The height of male hemp plants is a determining factor for bee specie richness and abundance (Flicker et al., 2019). As previously mentioned, hemp is a wind-pollinated herbaceous plant. Therefore it serves diverse purposes for functional ecosystem integration. 

South Africa is home to a unique and diverse set of pollinating agents (Eardley, Kuhlmann and Pauly, 2010). According to Eardley et al. (2010), there are 2755 Afrotropical bee species identified in sub-Saharan Africa, with a third of that population existing in South Africa. The nature of pollination is complex, due to different plants needing different pollinating agents. However, Flicker et al. (2019) and O’Brien and Arathi (2019) conducted studies in New York and Colorado (respectively), which surmised that pollen supply in an agricultural region coincides with the senescing of other pollinating crops. Therefore, hemp pollen provides vital nutrients at an integral time to maintain the biodiversity of Hymenoptera (large order of insects) in agricultural landscapes. Other conclusive data shown in these studies identified that the height and temporal flowering of male hemp plants are key aspects for the resilience of pollinator communities within agroecosystems (Flicker et al. 2019). Therefore, the strategic use of hemp within agriculturally productive regions can provide an essential ecosystem service which facilitates a natural-based solution to crop monoculture and seasonal pollen scarcity. Hemp can be used an off-seasonal pollen producing crop to help mitigate the extremities of pollen scarcity in the Eastern Cape as well as an additional income source for hemp farmers.

An interesting secondary revenue stream proposed by Medical Cannabis Primer (2020) for hemp farmers, is natural cannabinoid-infused honey. The study explains the relationship of the male hemp plants pollen with pollinating ecosystem agents, such as the African or Cape Honey Bee. Pollen provides protein, minerals, fats and essential vitamins which is needed for a nutrient development when feeding young bees. The worker bees pack the pollen which is rich in cannabinoids into pollen sacs which they return back to the hive. These pollen sacs are mixed with their saliva which is enzymatic and this contributes to the development of bee bread which is nectar and pollen stored away for fermentation and is then converted into honey. The amount of cannabinoids is dependant of the amount of pollen within the nectar mix. The bioavailability of cannabinoid-infused honey is higher than most of carrier-modes for cannabinoid absorption due to its ability to pass the Blood-Brain Barrier more efficiently. The opportunity to make cannabinoid infused honey has the potential for high-value added whilst contributing to the restoration of the Cape Honey Bee in the Eastern Cape. 

The delicate nature of honey bee pollination is hung in the balance between the Apis Mellifera Capensis (Cape Honey Bee) and the Apis Mellifera Scutellata (African Honey Bee) in South Africa. The Eastern Cape forms the invisible border between the populations of the African Honey Bee and the Cape Honey Bee. However, the Cape Honey Bee is more common. 

Sraka, Skevin, Obranovic, Butorac and Magdic (2019) and Ahmad, Tehsin, Malik, Asa, Shahzad, Bilal, Shah and Khan (2015) emphasised that cannabis contains a certain combination of chemical constituents which act as a natural herbicide. This is of vital importance to the overall health of a bioengineered ecosystem, as indigenous insect-life will not be as negatively affected as other crops due to the less toxic type of herbicide, insecticide and pesticide needed for cannabis cultivation. 

In a study conducted by Sraka et al. (2019), hemp seed yield and hemp fatty acids yield was analysed from 2016 to 2017 in the Pannonian agricultural region in the Republic of Croatia. The data took into account the agro-ecological conditions, a 30 year climatic data average, the rate of hemp evapotranspiration of plants, agro-technologies and harvest methods.  While Andre et al. (2016) states that the concentration of phytocannabinoids is dependent on the age, tissue type, growth conditions (nutrition, light, humidity), harvest time and storage. In a comparative study, Andre et al. (2016) observed that there were high traces of cannabinoids (particularly THC) found in 5 out of 11 hemp seed oil samples in from the Croatian hemp market. “Contaminations are due to improper processing procedures and the illegal use of drug-type hemp for nutritional purposes” (Andre et al. 2016:3). Whilst Challa et al. (2020) investigates how hemp processing (drying and removal of cannabinoids) imposes limitations on the final cannabinoid quantities. Further stating that “drying methods currently practiced in the industry have several limitations” (Challa et al. 2020:8). These multiple dialogues investigating the diverse elements affecting the final hemp product indicates that the cannabis industry is currently in the process of more comprehensive research and new development avenues.

Industrial hemp has another agro-ecological relationship that is, by itself, a formidable characteristic for the regeneration and stabilization of commercial and small-scale farms. Hemp has an ability to revitalise the health of the soil. This is due to the action of phytoremediation which is the plant roots interaction with the edaphic properties (Ahmad et al. 2015) (Amaducci, Zatta, Raffanini and Venturi, 2008) (Prade, 2011). Hemp essentially ‘cleans’ the soil.  Prade (2011) and Jami et al. (2019) mention that hemp is an ideal plant to sow for crop rotation due to the bioremediation properties and nematode resistance. This supports the agro-economic situation for many non-hemp farmers based on the increase in the performance of the revitalized soil after hemp remediation. 

Pioneer studies of hemps’ ability to hyperaccumulate heavy metal in soils was conducted in the Ukraine in 1998. Hemp was specifically utilized for the action of removing toxic contaminants surrounding Chernobyl after the nuclear meltdown (Ahmad et al. 2015). The determining factors of this study were the root length, root length diameter, short life cycle of growth (100-180 days) and the high biomass of hemp. Due to these attributes of hemp, it proved to reduce the contamination in this specific site. The evidence revealed a high uptake of copper, cadmium, chromium, lead, zinc and nickel in hemp leaves from the contaminated heavy metals in the soil. This is because plant life contains cells and tissues which protect themselves from certain oxidative damage via the absorption of antioxidant properties. Hemp contains stress responsive and tolerant genes. Ahmad et al. (2015) expressed that genetic manipulation of the heavy metal stress tolerant genes in hemp can be amplified to increase the hyper accumulator properties, thereby displaying positive signs for hemp cultivation to restore and regenerate abandoned mine quarries and mine dumps in South Africa and the Eastern Cape for agricultural production or development.

Hemp is a carbon sequestrating plant thereby offsetting the total carbon footprint of a hemp-based product (Novakova, 2018). According to Vosper (2019), one hectare of industrial hemp has the ability to absorb 22 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This suggests that hemp cultivation can be used for carbon farming to combat sector emission targets for various industries in South Africa. The nature of hemp cultivation is that nothing goes to waste. The offcuts after harvesting can also be used as animal feed or animal bedding (New Frontier Data, 2019).