A devastating volcanic eruption in St Vincent and the Grenadines has caused a major humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean country, with many traditional cannabis farmers now calling for international support. Some 16,000 people living close to the La Soufrière volcano have been evacuated since it first erupted on April 9, yet many of those who return will find their cannabis crops – and, therefore, their livelihoods – totally destroyed.
Cannabis In St Vincent And The Grenadines
Despite a long history of prohibition, cannabis has for many years been an important cash crop for local communities in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Even in the face of US-sponsored eradication programmes, cannabis is still estimated to have rivalled banana cultivation in terms of economic value in the island nation over the past 50 years.
Only in 2018 did St Vincent and the Grenadines finally pass a law allowing for the production of medical cannabis, while also decriminalising home growing and possession. This new legislation sparked a wave of interest from several of the big players within the medical cannabis scene, with a number of foreign companies having invested in growing facilities in the Caribbean country.
In spite of this, the majority of cannabis grown in St Vincent and the Grenadines is produced by local, traditional cultivators. This generally means that plants are grown outdoors rather than in greenhouses or large grow rooms, with cultivators taking advantage of the superb growing conditions.
For instance, the volcanic soil is enriched with nutrients and lends itself to cannabis cultivation, while abundant sunshine and rainfall allow for continual growing throughout the year. Participation in the country’s newly established medical cannabis market was therefore expected to benefit many local cultivators in a significant way, yet the events of the past few weeks have left a trail of shattered dreams in their wake.
La Soufrière Eruption Destroys Cannabis Fields
The eruption of La Soufrière has left the surrounding areas blanketed in ash, while pyroclastic lava flows have decimated the countryside close to the volcano. Unfortunately, a significant number of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ traditional cannabis cultivators grow their plants in the region, which means that many will have lost everything.
In a statement released in the days after the eruption, Cannabis Revival Committee (CRC) president Junior Spirit Cottle explained that “we participated in the cannabis industry investing everything we got, and were excited with the prospects that we were going to be legal, and therefore what we earned weren’t going to run the risk of being confiscated by the authorities”.
“Now, we have lost everything, and are facing extreme hardship”, he added.
Of particular concern to local cannabis growers is that they may not receive the same amount of aid as other sectors in St Vincent and the Grenadines. For this reason, the CRC is calling on both the government and the international community to ensure that the country’s traditional cannabis cultivators receive the support they need to rebuild.
Failure to provide sufficient aid will likely see many farmers left destitute, adding to the growing humanitarian crisis while also leaving the medical cannabis market open for foreign companies to dominate at the expense of local Vincentian growers.