'I’m a farmer, not a thug': Cannabis cultivator gives insight into SA’s green sector

The tunnel facility where Marco Brink grows his craft-quality cannabis. Picture: Supplied

The tunnel facility where Marco Brink grows his craft-quality cannabis. Picture: Supplied

Published Oct 31, 2023


With the cannabis sector being heavily touted by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government in recent weeks, IOL has spoken to a South African cultivator who shared some insight into the business, from seed to harvest and beyond.

Marco Brink, 42, has been farming the plant since 2018, after the Constitutional and High Court rulings.

Brink’s location is not being disclosed due to safety reasons.

Brink was a farmer prior to putting his first cannabis plant in the ground and has years of experience in agriculture.

After the ruling came out, which stated that citizens could cultivate for personal use, the 42-year-old decided to enter the industry.

“I was farming prior to this, so it's not like I’m only relying on cannabis. But it would be nice to have another feather in my hat.

“I farm fresh produce, so we decided to apply those same skills and knowledge to cannabis, and it has been a long five years, learning the ins and outs of the plant and what strains perform well in our climate.

“The first time I planted, I put about 200 plants in the ground but only managed to get around 30 grams from each plant. Now I harvest around 150 grams per plant; that’s because of how much we learned over time,” Brink said.

In the beginning, Brink used to sow seeds into the ground, but now runs a mother-and-clone system.

This is done by growing a big cannabis plant, which you can cut clones from, explaining the name “mother plant”.

The clone system that Marco Brink uses to keep good strains in circulation. Picture: Supplied

These clones are often propagated indoors and then transplanted outside when they are mature enough to be exposed to the sun. This is done to increase the chances of success at harvest.

The cloning method also allows cultivators to keep a strain they like or that has performed well in circulation.

The business of cannabis after it is grown and harvested is still a grey area, however, as legalities around the sale of cannabis are not set in stone, as the provincial government is making it out to be.

Brink said the cannabis club route was a good option for him because of the safety and community that came with it, unlike a commercial operation, which involves a lot of parties.

“I’m just a farmer, not a thug. When I first got into it, I met a lot of unsavoury characters and I knew right away I did not want to deal with them. I’m not a person to carry around guns and have my goons with me.

“The way cannabis clubs work, I think there could be ways for people to benefit from it but there’s also a lot of work that comes with it which nobody tells you about. We each have a contract to grow for a specific member, whatever they like, and we basically fulfil that contract by growing the specified strain,” Brink said.

The farmer by profession said the indica dominant strains perform well in the South African climate, with strains like Swazi gold, Acapulco gold being popular ones.

Acapulco gold is native to South America, but performs well in South Africa because of similarities in our climates, Brink explained.

“I don’t see this as a major business venture, to be honest. The way things are right now in terms of the law, it's going to be a while before it is considered legal. That being said, the 2018 ruling was a sort of door opening into another market for me, but I will continue to farm other products as well,” Brink said.