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As Africa opens up to cannabis, ‘it isn’t all about marijuana’

Malobi Ogbechie, PHA's Managing DirectorMalobi Ogbechie, PHA's Managing Director
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Africa can build a hemp industry based on locally owned and operated supply chains, but the continent’s many diverse nations need expertise and investment from abroad, a newly organized Panafrican Hemp Association (PHA) has suggested.

As governments across the continent expand legalization of cannabis in some form, and investments begin to flow into African cannabis operations, the excitement isn’t all about marijuana, said Malobi Ogbechie, founder and Managing Director of the recently launched association, based in Lagos, Nigeria.

“I know through speaking with different African stakeholders that the most excitement is for the industrial properties ­– using hemp fiber, using hemp in construction, in the automotive and textile industries,” Ogbechie said.

Who will invest?

While the U.S. and European countries can surely provide expertise – and markets – for African hemp companies, it’s yet unclear who will invest the intellectual capital and financing the industry needs to develop in Africa.

“There’s a lot of expertise and investment reaching out from North America, and there will be close ties to Europe because of the proximity to market and shared time zones,” Ogbechie said.

“If Africans are not going to build the industry, someone else is going to. If the diaspora is not going to invest in Africa, someone else will,” said Ogbechie. “Obviously China is dominating the market, so in terms of machinery, seed supply and knowledge, there will be a lot of collaboration. We’re not necessarily averse to it.”

The new association hopes to build a strong industry framework that’s nimble enough to be able to respond to the diverse needs of Africa’s many, varied markets. “Things work differently in Africa, and each country has its own laws and ways of doing things,” said Ogbechie.

Africa’s edge

From genetics and farming to processing and innovation, African hemp growers will need a lot of help to get the industry going. But the continent has significant advantages. “We’ve got a lot of land and a lot of good weather,” Ogbechie said. “And the great thing about Africa is that we can skip a lot of steps. We can jump directly to solutions that have been proven to work. This means our industry is going to go from zero to 100 very quickly.”

With Africa experiencing an overall development boom – six out of the top 10 leading high growth countries are located on the continent, according to the International Monetary Fund – Ogbechie and others like him see hemp as a tool to develop even faster, but more sustainably.

“It’s the environmental aspects and the versatility of the crop, the fact that it’s sustainable and that a single plant can provide so many end-products. It has the potential to industrially transform economies,” Ogbechie said.

Inspiration

Ogbechie said it was seeing the value of formal hemp associations in the UK, in Europe and in North America that inspired him to start the PHA. “They bring a lot of value to their industries, and we’re going to need similar structures and good organization if we are going to do hemp in Africa,” he said.

But the PHA doesn’t simply want to replicate how others are doing things, or even define itself pre-emptively. “On the one hand we’ve got the structure of an association, but because the association is in its infancy, we want to stay open, we want to stay flexible and we want to understand the different needs of countries, and the needs of particular businesses or projects,” said Ogbechie.

International outreach

PHA is hoping to develop relationships in African nations, but also abroad. “We’re looking for international partners and educational institutions, hemp companies, cooperatives and consultants,” Ogbechie said. “We get a lot of requests for technical expertise and guidance and would love to add them to our database”

The young association is already active, holding group chats and hosting webinars as it tries to connect interested parties to hemp projects. Ogbechie said the next year will see a push to expand membership, which is open to anyone with an interest in the African hemp industry. Interested parties can join for free online.

– Arne Verhoef

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