By William Sumner, Hemp Business Journal Contributor
As hemp companies and foreign investors seek new global markets for establishing operations, one region in particular resides relatively untapped. In terms of natural resources, Africa is one of the most abundant locales in the world, and features approximately 200 million hectares of uncultivated land – nearly half of the world’s total, according to the World Bank, and more than the total cultivated area in the United States.
Yet, despite the continent’s vast resources, its 54 countries together comprise the world’s poorest inhabited continent, with an entire combined GDP totaling barely a third that of the United States’ GDP.
In that context, it is unsurprising that the African hemp market has been underdeveloped, whether due to poor public policy, political instability, or cultural stigma surrounding the plant.
Though Africa’s hemp market thus remains underutilized, there is commerce occurring, with aspects of the industry developing apace. In 2018, retail hemp sales in Africa reached about $15 million, most of which was generated among but half a dozen companies. By 2022, The Hemp Business Journal estimates that retail sales among African markets will increase to a combined $133 million.
For now, the countries of Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe lead all African markets. In 2015, the Malawian government approved hemp cultivation for export on a trial basis. One of the few companies that have been able to take advantage of it has been Invegrow, with reported success in producing seed varieties.
Working with the South African hemp company Hemporium, Invegrow has been able to bring hemp-based clothing and cosmetics to the Malawian market. By the end of 2019, the company hopes to make broad-spectrum hemp extracts and essential oils, although it is unclear whether the company will meet this goal.
South Africa has proven to be a slightly more dynamic market, with companies like Hemporium operating in the country for more than a decade. Since 1994, South Africa has been conducting feasibility studies on hemp cultivation, but has been reticent to embrace a full-blown hemp industry.
However, in April the country’s Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana announced that his department was looking at ways to legalize commercial hemp production. According to Business Live, Zokwana says that the Department of Health is considering approving 36 applications for hemp production, with cultivation limits ranging between 2-20 hectares.
“The departments of health as well as justice & constitutional development have been requested to amend their respective legislation to facilitate commercial production of hemp and manufacturing of related products,” Zokwana told Business Live. “The department of agriculture and the department of health are also developing guidelines for regulating the cultivation and manufacturing of hemp and hemp products. The two departments will make pronouncements once this process has been concluded.”
In 2017, the government in Zimbabwe legalized hemp production for research purposes. Despite taking in more than $7 million in application fees, the government put the program on hold until feasibility studies could be performed.
While the country’s research program has struggled to get off the ground, the Zimbabwean government recently announced that it would legalize commercial hemp production. Like those of many U.S. states, the government hopes that the crop will serve as a substitute for tobacco, its biggest agricultural export.
Of all the world’s hemp markets, Africa has the most untapped potential. A well-developed industry would not only provide significant financial opportunities, but it could also go a long way towards addressing systemic poverty and food insecurity in the continent, while helping to modernize agricultural-based economies. As more nations begin to embrace hemp cultivation in the coming years, expect to see Africa at large realize its vast potential.
William Sumner is a writer for the hemp and cannabis industry. Hailing from Panama City, Florida, William covers various topics such as hemp legislation, investment, and business. William’s writing has appeared in publications such as Green Market Report, Civilized, and MJINews. You can follow William on Twitter: @W_Sumner.
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