Talking Landrace Strains with Franco Loja


Dan Michaels, author of Green: A Field Guide to Marijuana, shares with HIGH TIMES one of the last known interviews with Franco Loja—the late, great Strain Hunter—which first appeared in his book.

All of today’s strains inevitably derive from pure, ancient cannabis plants found throughout the
world and referred to as “landraces.” Landraces occur naturally and adapt to a particular region,
over a long period of time, without any external influences. Franco Loja from Amsterdam’s
Green House Seed Co.—the most awarded seed bank in the world—has been traveling the planet
in search of these rare landraces with a group known as the Strain Hunters.

Why Are Landraces Important?
Cannabis is one of the essential resources of our planet. Landraces represent the
most ancient pure form of cannabis we have available, perfected by Mother Nature over
hundreds, sometimes over thousands of years, constantly adapting and evolving, improving their
harmony with the environment they live in. The plants are larger and generally more vigorous;
buds usually form more complex resin that contains more cannabinoids and terpenes. If allowed
to develop large in size, these seeds and plants give massive yields. Perhaps most importantly,
landraces are the basis for breeding and necessary to creating new and different strains of
cannabis.

How Many Different Landrace Varieties Exist?
There are many cannabis landraces almost all over the world. Arjan Roskam,
founder of Amsterdam-based Green House Seeds, has been traveling and collecting landraces
since the 1980s. He traveled to Southeast Asia to collect landraces in Vietnam, Cambodia, and
Laos, and later on to Africa and South America. Since we started the Strain Hunters project, back
in 2008, we have collected landraces and documented our travels. We have been to South Africa,
Malawi, India, Morocco, Trinidad, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Swaziland, and
more recently to Colombia with the crew from Vice.com.

Are Landraces Mostly Indica or Sativa?
It really varies with the region, but you can say that the only continent on earth
where there are true indica landraces is Asia, especially in the Hindu Kush area (Afghanistan,
Pakistan, North India, South China). For the rest, landraces in Africa, South America, and
Central America are generally sativa; while landraces in Europe and North America are usually
low-THC hemp. An exception is North Africa (Morocco) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan,
Armenia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia) where the landraces are the
ruderalis variety.

How Do You Know Where to Find Landraces?
Arjan always says, “If you are looking for cannabis, find man first,” because man
uses cannabis and man propagates cannabis the most, since the beginning of our existence. In
most cases the real landraces are found within poor, isolated rural communities in remote areas
of third world countries. Landraces are always the dominant plant in their own environment and
always overpower any “intrusion.” Unfortunately, many landraces are at risk of extinction
because of eradication programs or crop-replacement government programs, as it happened in
Jamaica and Trinidad. We feel it is our duty to preserve these cannabis landraces for the future of
scientific and medical research, and for the basic human right to use a beneficial plant.

What Are the Most Valuable Landraces?
All landraces are valuable, simply because they are plants at risk of being lost
forever. Some landraces are more famous than others, and more in demand. The legendary
names from the hippy times are still popular today; from the 1970s: Punto Rojo and Colombian
Gold, or Malawi Gold, Durban Poison, Limon Verde—these are all very special plants and
genetics with a real history. A history that lives on in pop culture, songs, movies, and through
word of mouth passed on from one generation of marijuana smokers to the next.

Why Are Breeding Hybrids So Important?
Mixing genes is always a good thing for the development of any species. This is
one of the basic rules of genetics, valid for all forms of complex life on this planet. The
thousands of strains available today are the result of over 40 years of breeding in the western
world. Cannabis breeding as we know it began on the West Coast of the United States and
Canada in the mid-1960s—and it hasn’t stopped. It just kept spreading and increasing
exponentially. However, there is a need for injecting new genes into the mix. And the best “new”
genes are “old” landraces, for the simple reason that they have been inbreeding and selecting
themselves on a massive scale for a long period of time.

Related: The Top 10 Strains of 2016

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