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Africa warms up to Marijuana farming for research and export

September 15th, 2021
topic:Economic Opportunity
by:Bob Koigi
located in:South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Morocco
tags:cannabis, COVID-19 coronavirus, Marijuana

Traditionally treated as a taboo plant in most African countries, marijuana is slowly being embraced across the continent, as scientists and researchers explore new medical therapies for emerging diseases.

The burgeoning, multibillion dollar marijuana market is driven by unprecedented global demand, and now sees countries in Africa decriminalise and legalise the cultivation and export of the plant. Studies show that over 10,000 tonnes of cannabis are produced in the continent every year. 

African farmers have been growing cannabis for centuries, but, until now, its consumption has been banned across the continent. The policy change has been largely informed by medicinal and economic reasons. 

Diversifying revenue through cannabis trade

As African countries rely on revenue from export of key cash crops, such as coffee, maize, cocoa, tea and cotton, the price fluctuations and uncertainty in the global markets have provided unreliable income streams.

Countries have been keen on venturing into other sources of income, and with the pent-up demand for Marijuana in Europe and the Americas, Africa has softened its hard stance on the cannabis industry. African Governments that have warmed up to cannabis trade argue that legalizing marijuana would generate a great source of revenue through taxation, lead to economic growth and help create jobs. 

According to the Africa Regional Hemp and Cannabis Report, Africa’s total marijuana value was estimated at $37.3 billion by 2018, accounting for 11 percent of the global market

With the global market for legal cannabis projected to hit $43 billion in 2024, Africa is poised to be a key player in the global trade if the trend of legalising cannabis in the continent were to continue. 

Lesotho was the first country to legalise the usage of marijuana in 2008, and in 2017 became the first country in Africa to issue administrative license for commercial cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific uses. 

It has paved the way for more African countries that have followed suit, including South Africa, Morocco, Rwanda, Uganda, eSwatini, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

“Cultural beliefs on the dangers of Marijuana usage are still entrenched in many African countries, which explains why the majority has been hesitant to allow the production and commercialisation of the plant," said Julius Kisaka, a pharmaceutical chemist based in Nairobi, Kenya. "But for countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where the plant is heavily cultivated, it is only a matter of time before that hesitancy changes due to the economic enticements that the global trade promises.” 

Angling for Africa’s pot pie

A flurry of activities has been taking place as African nations prepare to cash in on the lucrative market of cannabis products. 

Israeli company Together Pharmaceuticals, Medi Kingdom from the UK and Canadian cannabis supplying firms Canopy Growth, ExMceuticals and Aphria have recently set up shop in Africa and invested in cultivation of cannabis for export.  

South African commercial cannabis brand GoodLeaf merged with Lesotho’s Highlands Investments in June this year - a deal that was estimated at nearly $50million. 

"This is a transformational transaction for Goodleaf as we have diversified our business into a fully seed-to-sale offering, strengthening our leadership position in the South African cannabis market," Warren Schewitz, Founder and CEO of Goodleaf ,said in a statement  during the merger. "It provides a low-cost production base for our product range as we expand into global markets."

MG Health, a Lesotho-based, licensed cultivator and manufacturer of pharmaceutical cannabis extracts, made history in April by becoming the first African cannabis company to be granted the EU Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification, which allowed it to enter into deals in the European Union market. 

Marijuana and COVID-19

In what could pave the way for a medical breakthrough in the continent, South Africa announced in June last year that it had initiated trials in partnership with universities and indigenous medicine men on the effectiveness of six herbs in fighting COVID-19. Marijuana was one of them.

 “Despite these landmark steps, we should be alive to the fact that marijuana is still treated with suspicion and apprehension in a bulk of African countries and governments are hesitant to introduce laws that legalises it as it is still classified alongside harmful drugs like cocaine and heroin,” Kisaka added. 

 

Image by: Jhon David

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
South Africa Lesotho Zimbabwe Zambia Morocco
Workers inspect cannabis plants in the greenhouse at the MG Health Ltd. growing facility in central Lesotho.
© Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A factory worker processes Cannabis flowers to make them ready for export in Kasese, Uganda. Uganda is one of several African countries looking to produce medical cannabis for export to Europe and America.
© Luke Dray via Getty Images