Cannabis is well known across the continent of Africa, being both cultivated and consumed widely. In most of the countries though, it is still considered illegal substance. Very few African governments have taken legislative steps towards decriminalization and utilization of the business opportunities the growing global cannabis market has to offer. Estimates show that around 38,000 tonnes annually come out of Africa, with most of it going on the black market.
The challenging economic circumstances of many African nations, coupled with a long history of cannabis use and a favorable climate means that many farmers rely on cannabis as the only way to secure an income and meet basic needs such as education and food. This agricultural expertise in cannabis farming could position Africa as a leading producer of cannabis, but the reality is that unless innovative irrigation technologies are introduced, there is likely to be insufficient water to support mass scale operations in the region, particularly in newer cultivation methods such as hydroponics. As a result, Africa might be able to help supply demand, but is unlikely to be able to produce the quality cannabis that the maturing market will inevitably call for.
At the end of the day positive legislative changes could allow not only for an estimated $7+ billion market, but new jobs, foreign investments and better infrastructure. Some of the medicinal benefits of cannabis could also aid the struggle of most African nations for better healthcare.
The small nation of Lesotho benefits greatly from their mountainous terrain for their cannabis fields. For two decades now the country has been leading the charts in terms of cannabis produced, despite some limitations when it comes to industrial-sized amounts of crops. The regulations regarding growing it though came pretty recently, in 2017, when Lesotho became the first African state to grant legal licenses. Still, there are very few big cultivators who actually bought license, while the majority of small farmers work and sell in the grey/black area. Earlier, in 2008, the medicinal use of cannabis was deemed legal; even though recreational use is considered illegal, the consumption is generally tolerated.
As for the industry itself – it has seen a good amount of foreign investment. Several Canadian-based companies embraced quickly the cheap local labour and the fertile lands that provide high CBD cannabis crops. Lesotho’s plan is to encourage both cultivation and processing in order to export finished products. The total forecast for the market value of Lesotho’s cannabis market is around 92 million US dollars by 2023.
One of the largest and best established economies on the continent, South Africa shouldn’t be looking to fall back in the cannabis race. UN estimates that around 2,500 tonnes of cannabis are produced yearly in the country. For years though, the drug was considered unconstitutional and only recently it has been ruled that it could be cultivated, but only for private use. Some CBD products (with low or no THC) are considered legal, but restricted to maximum 20mg per day. In the meantime, the black market of South Africa is flourishing. It is expected that major changes in legislation should come as late as September 2020. This is expected to allow greater use of the drug, as well as finally open the doors for a legal cannabis industry. There are several provinces that have great climate for the crops, like Limpopo, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. If such changes happen indeed, the economic forecast for the South African cannabis market value surpasses 1,5 billion US dollars.
Going to the northern parts of Africa, Morocco is one of top cannabis growers in the world. Even though it is considered illegal in the country, it’s use is tolerated and accepted as part of local culture. It is actually quite easily accessible within the country, in the form of “kif” – a mix of cannabis and tobacco, made for smoking. Most of the production (estimated around 80%) is smuggled outside of the country, supplying the black market of other African countries and Europe. Morocco is also used for cannabis tourism, mostly by Europeans. For the past years, with the development of the global legal industry and the medicinal benefits of cannabis, the Moroccan governments have been considering changes in legislation, but with no real changes to this day. Opportunities for new jobs, foreign investments and great tax revenues have been also taken into consideration. If changes in legislation come through soon, the estimated value of Morocco’s cannabis market could reach 1 billion US dollars.