HENNOPS, South Africa (AP) – Piles of bright green cannabis plants, freshly harvested from nearby greenhouses, are expertly sorted on a laboratory table by workers wearing gloves and charcoal cutters who cut the leaves and flowers and put them in bins for further processing.

Druid’s Garden Farm in Hennops, about 32 km north of Johannesburg, is licensed to research and legally produce cannabis besides other traditional medicines for sale in South Africa and on international markets.

The farm’s founder, Cian McClelland, said one of his goals is indeed to help small black farmers enter the potentially lucrative cannabis market in South Africa.

One of the most important aspects of this industry is for us to find ways to raise small farmers, especially rural black farmers,” McClelland said. “We would like to play an active role across the country, in partnership with the Heritage Trust, to help … provide access to these markets.

McClelland knows that rural black farmers, who grow cannabis traditionally but illegally, are now fighting to benefit from the country’s relaxation of cannabis laws.

Following the Constitutional Court’s decision in 2018 to decriminalize personal use and cultivation of cannabis, the cannabis industry in South Africa could be worth more than $23 billion by 2023, according to a recent report by Prohibition Partners.

Struggles

However, there are fears that black farmers who have been working for decades in what has been an illegal industry could miss out on the potential boom.

In fact , many small growers cannot afford the licenses needed to grow cannabis for medical and research purposes.

Strict requirements include :

  • obtaining police permits
  • registering a specified plot size
  • erecting high-tech security fences
  • obtaining irrigation systems
  • entering into agreements with foreign buyers, among others.

Therefore , the cost of establishing a legal cannabis farm is estimated at between US$ 200,000 and US$ 350,000, according to a South African agricultural publication, Landbouwweekblad.

The new cannabis industry could soon be controlled by large pharmaceutical companies, eliminating long-time producers, according to agricultural experts.

While some successful black farmers like Itumeleng Tau are working to train emerging farmers to grow and process cannabis to the standards required to obtain drug licenses.

If a small farmer in rural areas has to have two hectares of land or one hectare, fully fenced, when he was growing without a fence and no one wanted to, it’s pretty impractical,” Tau said.

Cannabis activists

Moleboheng Semela, a cannabis activist and secretary-general of the Cannabis Development Council. Is among those fighting to obtain licenses for those who had previously grown and sold cannabis illegally.

Her organization helps emerging farmers obtain permits to grow cannabis and produce medicines.

We have these communities that were involved in the cannabis industry before the court decision. But we have seen our government focus more on (producers of) pharmaceuticals,” said Semela.

We note that cannabis cultivation can play an important role in helping the poorest regions of the country,” Ramaphosa said at a community meeting in the rural town of Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape Province in September last year. The province is one of the areas in South Africa where cannabis has been grown by many farmers for generations as a means of subsistence despite laws prohibiting it. Last year, the Eastern Cape provincial government sent a delegation to Canada to study cannabis cultivation and product development.

Legalization

However, South African law enforcement remains determined to arrest those who produce without a license. In November, police arrested 3 people for operating a hydroponic laboratory in Brits, outside the capital Pretoria, confiscating more than $200,000 worth of cannabis.

The investigation aimed also at cracking down on the illegal proliferation of cannabis dispensaries across the country,” said police spokesman Captain Tlangelani Rikhotso.

At Druid’s Garden, Cian McClelland said the bar need not be so high for newcomers.

Opting for a full pharmaceutical license is very expensive and out of reach for most people in rural areas,” he said. So, what we’re advocating is to use our center as a training center. In order to bring in people from rural communities. Teach them low-tech models that are within their means . So they can go back to their communities and implement them relatively easily.

The cannabis industry in South Africa is growing so fast that cannabis conventions are emerging across the country.

A recent cannabis exhibition held at the stylish Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg attracted hundreds of cannabis activists, farmers, growers, and exhibitors from around the world. The exhibition has grown from 58 exhibitor booths last year to more than 200 booths this year, according to exhibition director Silas Howard.

“It just shows how much and how fast this industry has grown,” Howard said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa recently presented the country’s cannabis industry as an important sector in the country’s fight against unemployment.

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