Africa is asserting itself as a high-potential emerging region for large-scale cannabis grow operations. With South Africa leading the continent’s entry into the market along with the Kingdom of Lesotho and Zimbabwe, savvy investors are jockeying for position. But the future health of the African cannabis industry faces several challenges: maintaining consistent, sustainable product quality, overcoming regulatory uncertainty and promoting social justice are long-term considerations that should inform current decisions.
The African Legal Cannabis Landscape
South Africa began licensing the production and export of medical cannabis in 2018 and is expected to become a global frontrunner in the industry. The South African Supreme Court’s decriminalization of cannabis for personal recreational use in September further propelled the country’s entry into the market.
According to a recent UN survey, more than 10,000 tons of cannabis are produced in Africa each year. With abundant land, an experienced labour force and climates conducive to cannabis cultivation, if legitimized, cannabis could contribute to a continent-wide economic uptick.
While Africa is eyeing global cannabis export, local markets are also of interest. The continent’s unregulated market is estimated to be upwards of $10 billion. According to Prohibition Partners, five of the world’s top 30 countries for cannabis prevalence among adult populations are in Africa. Nigeria alone has 20 million cannabis consumers. This translates to the potential for legal cannabis to generate an economic surge for African nations that have been historically disadvantaged and exploited.
The potential for cannabis to usher prosperity has induced many African countries to weigh regulatory changes. The Kingdom of Lesotho, a sovereign nation of 2 million bordered on all sides by South Africa, granted the continent’s first license to grow and export legal medical cannabis in 2017. Currently, several countries including Eswatini, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, are examining legalizing cannabis cultivation for medical or industrial applications.
What can Israel offer Africa’s cannabis industry?
Africa’s potential for export has attracted some of the world’s largest cannabis companies, including Canadian giants Tilray and Canopy Growth Corp. While expansion into substantial local markets and global export holds promise, in order to keep the cannabis value chain local, ensure sustainable growth and improve efficacy, infrastructure and tech will play an important role.
This is where Israeli expertise can offer an advantage. As the “Startup Nation,” Israel’s biggest commodity is its intellectual property (IP). The concentration of talent and tech makes Israel’s cannabis-specific offerings a perfect match for Africa’s big-grow potential.
Israel is a global leader in advanced cannabis production solutions, including unique extraction techniques, targeted formulations, plant quality monitoring technology and novel delivery platforms. This can offer greater cost-efficiency and standardization to ensure the health of Africa’s expanding cannabis industry. Anticipating a cannabis boom in the near future, Israeli aggrotech companies are already planting roots in Africa.
This partnership is mutually beneficial: Israeli companies have an opportunity to expand their global footprint and African growers benefit from the leading-edge cannabis tech and research that are Israel’s cottage industry. Another reason why integrating the African supply chain is particularly important is to ensure that local businesses and workers are not cut out of end-product profit. Israel can help promote social equity by contributing to post-production cannabis infrastructure and technology.
African Cannabis, Global Impact
Beyond mutual financial benefit, the partnership between African cannabis farms and Israeli tech stands to help people around the world. By expanding the African market and ensuring supply chain sustainability, patients with a wide range of conditions will enjoy increased access to high-quality, cost-effective cannabis-based medicine. This growth, however, should foster and protect the interests of local stakeholders including farmworkers, local patients and small cannabis businesses.
Novel cannabis-derived therapies are impacting global health, with numerous researchers and policy-makers sanctioning cannabinoid drugs to treat epilepsy, AIDS and chemotherapy-related symptoms, and muscular disorders. The benefits of a thriving African cannabis industry extend beyond economic growth. A healthy African market could become a main source of bulk medicinal cannabis and cannabis-derived products, and Israeli cannabis know-how can help achieve this while promoting sustainability and social equity.
Saul Kaye is the Founder and CEO of iCAN: Israel-Cannabis and CannaTech, a global cannabis industry conference founded with the mission of expanding the global cannabis ecosystem and contributing to the ongoing post-prohibition dialogue. CannaTech will be holding an African conference in Cape Town, South Africa, November 24-26 where the most pressing issues facing the industry will be discussed with regional and international cannabis business and thought leaders.