Here are some vintage photographs of the landrace that Afghan cannabis farmers know as ‘Mazari’, ‘Balkhi’, or ‘Mazar-i-Sharif’. The images were emailed to me by an old-timer who brought the seed from northern Afghanistan to the United States in the 1970s. Until the bumper harvest of 2007, the region around the city of Balkh (in size more a town than city these days) retained its historic postion as the major centre of production of the finest quality Afghan charas.
The ‘Mazari’ or ‘Balkhi’ landrace doesn’t fit neatly into the Indica versus Sativa categorization favoured by many western growers and researchers. Its characteristics are discussed in the UNODC Afghanistan Cannabis Survey (2009), which is the best of the surveys UNODC conducted during the 2008 to 2011 growing seasons. The surveys note how ‘Mazari’ is a large strain and that fields of cannabis in Afghanistan could reach up to three metres in height. A height of 2 to 3 metres is given for the ‘Mazari–Afghani’ listed in the Fall 1985 Cultivator’s Choice catalogue.
Perhaps the easiest way to think about the ‘Mazari’ landrace is as an Indica–Sativa hybrid, possibly a hybrid between a pure Indica of the kind cultivated around the desert oasis centres of Central Asia and the distinct type of crop cultivated to the south in the Punjab, which is within the monsoon belt. The landraces cultivated for bhang in the Punjab, Rajasthan, and Sindh have the tall, narrow-leafleted morphology of Sativas but the cannabinoid profile typical of Central Asian plants (i.e., the population is basically 1:2:1).
Most landraces originated as hybrids between landraces. The region around the city of Balkh is well-placed for hybridization between Central and South Asian populations to occur. Balkh has historically both had very strong links with India and acted as a major entrepot and emporium along the so-called Silk Road trade routes of Central Asia.