Savior crop for a continent? A hemp manifesto for Africa

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First of two parts
Part 2: South Africa’s Cautionary Tale

Hemp could play a major role in achieving nearly every goal of the so-called “Africa 2063” manifesto, and serve in nearly every aspect of the ambitious Accelerated Industrial Development plan for Africa (AIDA), driven by the African Union and the United Nations. There is no better single crop to help modernize African agriculture and bring more industrialization to African economies than hemp, with its adaptability as a crop and its broad array of potential end products.

Hemp can empower the rural poor and address systemic poverty by including small scale producers into agronomic value chains, and through investing in the skills and resources needed to produce the crop. Its many ancillary industries can drive rapid economic advancement, creating jobs and ensuring inclusive economic participation.

Keeping Africa clean

The crop can address food security, increase climate resilience and minimise Africa’s carbon output, keeping it at the lowest in the world without halting progress. It can create carbon-sensitive infrastructure and dignified, healthy and eco-friendly housing for the millions living in shacks and shanty towns.

Because hemp is a perfect crop to address the critical challenges faced by the continent, it should be in the vanguard of efforts aimed at sustainable economic, social and environmental development.

Addressing the barriers

But in Africa, the barriers are significant. The legislative challenges are immense, and a lot of grassroots work also still needs to be done to overcome rampant stigmas about cannabis in general, and to raise hemp’s profile on the continent. The potential of the crop escapes many everyday Africans. In some regions of Zimbabwe, for example, it’s believed that the plant’s seeds are poisonous. This in a country where malnutrition is relatively common due to protein-deficient diets, and where at least one native hemp variety produces an astounding amount of seed – potentially well-suited as seed crop. The general population needs to be convinced of the plant’s benefits, not just know its religious or recreational use.

Ignorance often extends to the highest levels of officialdom. Our government leaders also need to understand the promise hemp holds. And then they need to develop legislative frameworks and government support programs to facilitate the creation of inclusive hemp value chains all over the continent. Needless to say, getting the rules for hemp right goes hand-in-hand with the need to eliminate cannabis prohibition generally, and reform our approach to this plant.

A ‘savior crop’?

Despite recent advances made in cannabis cultivation on the continent, there is no clear vision or strategy for positioning hemp as the “savior crop” it could be.

High entry barriers such as exorbitant licensing fees promote big-scale, commercial growing that attracts foreign investment but excludes traditional cannabis-growing communities that have historically suffered most from cannabis prohibition.

On the other hand, focusing only on using the crop to empower the rural poor will exclude commercial players, which are needed to achieve economies of scale, build the required infrastructure, drive innovation and open the market.


What is needed to realize the potential of hemp in Africa is a combined, multilateral effort where governments, policy makers, advocates, researchers, farmers and other stakeholders come together to formulate strategies that promote the hemp industry in an Afro-centric way.

With strong institutional leadership and a population awakened to the benefits of the crop and its countless products, honorable collaboration and policies based on sustainable development, social welfare and regenerative resources, hemp can emerge as a powerful tool in addressing the challenges of the continent.

Despite its many challenges, Africa has a unique opportunity: To leapfrog into the 21st century, adopting future-oriented development strategies while avoiding the mistakes and pitfalls of the “developed world” – from negative social outcomes to high environmental costs due to carbon-intensive industries and dirty technologies.

Hemp, along with a select few other crops, can turn Africa into a global leader in the a bio-based economy focused on intelligent agriculture and regenerative resources, social progress and green innovation. Hemp can, if we have the vision and make the effort, be the flagship that sails Africa into the 21st century.

A Continental Strategy

With strong institutional leadership, hemp can emerge as a powerful tool in addressing the challenges of the African continent.

A successful strategy will:

  • Require strong institutional support and leadership
  • Drive broad legislative rehabilitation, including legislative protection of “savior crop” status
  • Find solutions suited to the African context, e.g. modular/mobile processing equipment, cooperative production.
  • Prioritize empowerment of women and youth
  • Incorporate and protect needs and markets of both small-scale and commercial actors.
  • Protect the genetic resources of African Cannabis
  • Identify regions well-suited to production of industrial Cannabis, invest in infrastructure and agronomic support
  • Pinpoint rewarding end products to focus on such as Canada did by putting their focus on seed
  • Foster agricultural research, such as genetic improvement and selective breeding for desired traits
  • Incentivize industrial uses of Cannabis products through funding research, subsidies, technical support, industry incubators and innovation hubs
  • Deregulate small scale production and cooperative models, and regulate commercial activity
  • Coordinate multilateral training, skills and knowledge transfer, awareness and education campaigns.

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