North West has become the latest province to set its sights on building a cannabis economy. This industry is expected to bring in billions for South Africa, and the North West government is determined to secure a portion for economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation in the province.
Speaking at the provincial government’s Cannabis Master Plan Implementation webinar, agriculture and rural development MEC Desbo Mohono said that the South African cannabis industry is estimated to be worth R8 billion. She added that the research they had conducted revealed that the bulk of the sector is operating underground and that products are selling fast on the black market.
“As a country we are big on recreation but now we have to be creative and come up with ways that will directly benefit our people,” said Mohono.
She encouraged farmers to tap into the cannabis market as it could unlock economic opportunities for the province at large.
“Our farmers can tap into hemp fibre, hemp seed and hemp oil, and use cannabis for medical purposes, juice and – finally – as a recreational drug.”
Mohono further said that the “entire universe” is facing slow economic growth due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “The sooner the master plan strategy is implemented, the sooner we can reposition ourselves, escape the job creation issue and plough back into our province, casting aside poverty.”
Headway in certification and licensing
Mohono said that the province has a legally approved cannabis development council consisting of already established producers and two smallholder and community producers that received certification from the department of health. “I am also proud to announce that within the province there is already an established organisation that has been licensed for commercial and medical production purposes.”
‘Untapped industrial hemp market is a gold mine’
Kwena Mokgohloa from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) said that according to research, the global industrial hemp market was estimated at US$5.66 billion in 2020, and it is expected to reach just below US$27 billion by 2028.
China is the largest producer of hemp in the world, while the South African market for industrial hemp is yet unknown.
“Legally, for one to start cultivating industrial hemp, you will need to acquire a permit which will be issued by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development. And the products that can be made from industrial hemp include, among others, paper, textiles, rope, clothing, shoes, biofuel oil and bio products.”
He also mentioned that South Africa has a vast variety of cannabis landraces (locally adapted varieties of a species that developed over time), which are known for their value. However, this resource is under threat mainly because there is very little known about the diversity of these landraces.
Threat of international corporate capture
“There is also a concern that there might be exploitation by local and international companies of the people who have knowledge regarding the cultivation of cannabis – without them benefiting from it,” said Mokgohloa. “We are also concerned about contamination by foreign cultivars. This is because currently, if anyone wants to cultivate, they can only get seed from other countries. There are no registered cultivators in the country at the moment.”
Mokgohloa indicated that cannabis can offer opportunities in job creation, income generation and socio-economic development.
“The tools that can unlock the value chain are skills and continued research and development, as well as sustainable farming,” he concluded.
Task team to start working soon
Mohono said that a provincial task team will soon be fully functional and making sure that North West is not left behind in developing a cannabis industry.
“The community will comprise of government personnel and social partners like state-owned entities and core industrial role players. As we all know: in every positive endeavour there is always negative energy attached. We must make sure that we don’t allow ourselves to be derailed nor distracted by negative energy. Our young people, this is an opportunity for you to ensure that you take these opportunities with big arms and run with it.”
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