In fields across Italy, the seeds of fundamental change are being sown—and they quite literally are seeds, hemp seeds.
Individually, a hemp grower has little power, but as part of a local hemp-growing collective, that power increases exponentially. Similarly, a sole collective has little influence, but a network of communities working together can garner power on a much greater and more meaningful level.
Collective power is exactly what members of Canapa Info Point (CIP) are trying to achieve. They are bringing together local, small-scale hemp producers from across the country to create a nationwide decentralized network—one that is proving to possess a significant political voice. Currently, its members are liaising with scientists, economists and politicians to create legislation that could ultimately see the creation of Spanish-style cannabis social clubs and a regulated medical cannabis market. The Italian state has become increasingly open to medical cannabis in recent years—in fact, the military recently completed its first-ever medical cannabis crop!
In addition, CIP provides information to would-be hemp farmers on how to obtain licenses and EU funding. It also runs Saracinesca in Canapa, a one-hectare model field designed to demonstrate hemp agriculture to politicians, farmers and the interested public.1 The field is situated in the small hillside village just outside of Rome. They also have far-reaching plans to set up a bio park and therapeutic village, which upon completion would welcome medical cannabis tourists from around the world.
Italy was once known throughout the contemporary world for its fine-quality hemp products. Modern-day producers are keen to revive that legacy. Hemp industry associations are springing up all over the country—in Puglia, Piedmont, Tuscany and Lazio, to name just a few.
Up in the northern province of Brescia another hemp association has sprung up. AgriCanapa grows four hectares, and works with farmers growing a further 50 hectares throughout Brescia—partly to address issues of soils contaminated with PCBs. The soil surrounding the perimeter of a local chemical manufacturer Caffaro is among the worst in the world, and 5,000 times the residential safe limit decreed by the government.
AgriCanapa produces a wide range of high-quality hemp products including oils, textiles, building materials and some excellent pasta, flour and biscuits. AgriCanapa has plans to set up hemp cooking classes, as well as a number of other services to hemp entrepreneurs.
On our visit, president Federico explains his organization to us—and it is something truly evolved. When he was setting up AgriCanapa, the banks simply weren’t lending—a result of the global financial crisis of 2008, which crippled small and medium-sized businesses throughout Italy. Getting funding from alternative sources also proved an impossible task.
Federico refused to give up hope and instead began to think in terms that bypassed money entirely—and in doing so, he has implemented a business model that could well be described as post-capitalist.
Throughout Italy, another network is taking shape: a network that crosses multiple industries, and although focused locally, has interconnected hubs in most regions of the country. Via this network, businesses can exchange resources, products and expertise without using money at all, instead utilizing a system of “link credits” that can be redeemed by any other member.
Via this network, which is called Circuito di Credito Commerciale, Federico was able to access the resources, equipment and expertise he needed to set up his association, without actually using money at all! This kind of evolutionary thinking comes at a time when even the world’s greatest financial institutions are beginning to acknowledge the fact that capitalism is not working. It is failing small businesses, workers and everyday people—everyone who doesn’t have a direct stake in the aggressive corporate system currently dominating the global economy. Furthermore, it is failing to protect the environment, putting life as we know it in jeopardy.
Unearthing alternative models to traditional financial institutions is a necessity, and that’s exactly what’s happening right here in these small, rural, Italian communities. It’s not a complete replacement for all industries everywhere, but if we can apply these principles to agriculture at a minimum, the world could become a much, much better place.
Just as a plant takes time to grow, these ideas will take time to pervade society. This is why the process is perhaps best described as evolution, not revolution—not a sudden, drastic change, but gradual, incremental changes that occur over generations.
While these processes may be gradual, our acceptance of them is critical to our ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Change slowly pervades, but as it is often superior to whatever came before, it becomes dominant and paves the way for further change.
1. Hectare: a metric unit of square measure, equal to 100 acres