South Africa’s cautionary tale and a glance at other African states

Flag of South Africa

Second of Two Parts
Part One: A Hemp Manifesto for Africa

Despite starting research trials on the agronomic feasibility of hemp between 1994 and 1996 when the South African government started growing cannabis to make the THC isomer Dronabinol for the United States, South Africa has yet to properly legislate for hemp cultivation and use.

A study done by Camila Coogan, “The South African hemp story: Saviour Crop or Business as Usual?” details some of the trials and tribulations that has plagued the South African hemp industry. Many of the challenges stem from legislative barriers, while others stem from bad politics, differing stakeholder priorities and lack of any clear vision or consolidated efforts for a viable hemp industry.

Challenging inertia

Advocates, activists and commercial interests are challenging the lack of progress, and uniquely, cannabis prohibition is being challenged as unconstitutional and in violation of human-rights in SA courts. Meanwhile private stakeholders continue to advocate for legalization or de-regulation of cannabis, and are working to establish a hemp industry despite the legal and political challenges. A Cannabis Development Council of South Africa formed in late 2017 aims to facilitate industry growth.

The South African experience through 20 years can provide valuable insight to other countries on pitfalls and policy approaches to avoid as they slowly wake up to the potential of the crop:

MALAWI: In 2015 Malawi announced their trials on hemp, with promising results and enthusiastic reports on their findings and progress filtering through. One private company, Invegrow, has reported successful croppings of hemp seed varieties, and foresees a bright future for agricultural production in the country. Malawi is quickly set to become a voice in industrial hemp for the continent.

ZIMBABWE: The government recently rolled out a program for medical cannabis and hemp production which includes research trials. Permits for commercial growing, costing $50,000, brought the government more than $7 million in application fees in the two weeks following the announcement. Three weeks later, however, the government started back-peddling, putting licenses on hold until “feasibility studies” could be performed and to sort out a legislative framework.

DR CONGO: While the country is mired in conflict, it is also a large producer of cannabis. Details are difficult to come by, but commercial operations to produce cannabis (for export) are already underway. Revenue and biomass from cannabis can go a long way in rebuilding the country.

MOROCCO: Africa produces the most cannabis is the world, according to most sources. In Morocco’s Rff region, where a world famous landrace has been growing for hundreds of years, advocates are turning to the impressive amount of stalks produced as by-product (some 8,000 tons annually) for building houses and to develop local economies in the region.

LESOTHO: Cannabis has been the primary cash-crop of the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho for many decades. It has taken steps towards formalization of this market, issuing a medical cannabis licence to a South African company. – AV