By Edward Tsumele, Cannabis Business Africa Editor
During the day, Zwelonke Mamba is an advocate of the Northern Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, representing those who seek legal recourse and justice. But that is not all he is. He is also a cannabis entrepreneur, who like many other South African entrepreneurs, particularly from the black community, are currently eyeing an opportunity to have a part of the cake of the soon to be formalised cannabis business in South Africa.
This interest is fast gaining momentum i=within communities in South Africa, especially now that government has set a process in motion to legalise commercial cannabis. The National Cannabis Master Plan is currently being discussed with stakeholders at Nedlac to pave the way for legalising commercial cannabis in the country, a major move , which once it happens, will open the door for entrepreneurs to enter this lucrative industry, that will soon be formal. The process of formalizing and legalising the cannabis business in South Africa, is in line with international trends, that sees countries eyeing the opportunity of growing their economies and creating employment through commercially exploiting this plant, that is now understood to have many wellness and health benefits, including the production of medicines that can be legally prescribed for patients suffering from certain ailments by doctors.
On the African continent, 10 countries have either legalised or are in the process of legalising cannabis in one for or another, South Africa included.
Currently the CBD market, one of the more than 100 compounds in the cannabis family, which does not have THC, the compound that causes the ‘high’ effect when smoked, is largely legal in South Africa, hence a number of shops that are now selling CBD infused products in especially upmarket shopping centres and malls. However there are certain requirements that must be met by traders, such as acquiring the products from a licensed GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) compliant supplier and the dosages are controlled.
However it is the outcome of the National Cannabis Master Plan negotiations that everyone is waiting to see If the legal framework will go far enough to accommodate several interests aspiring to have a piece of the cannabis cake.
In fact once the plan has been polished, a legal framework will be fashioned out, upon which legislation will be realigned to allow commercial trade in the legal cannabis business, with the first hemp licenses set to be dished out by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development from as early as October this year. This follows confirmation by Minister of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza in her Budget Speech this year in Parliament. The cannabis plant has now been moved from the control, of the Department of Health into the control of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural development, as it is now regarded as a farm product, and not a health product where restrictions about what one could do with the plant are more strict.
Already a number of players who are either waiting for the process at Nedlac to finish before entering this new terrain when it comes to legal cannabis, or are already in the business with cannabis licenses that they got from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, under a very much strict and therefore restrictive legal environment, are waiting patiently for the industry to be formalized and made easier to operate in.
It is still not known with certainty however how the shape of the legal framework that will come out of the negotiations at Nedlac by stakeholders will look like, but entrepreneurs like Mamba, meanwhile cannot wait for that process to be concluded so that they can get to do the work of working the land and reap the rewards from the cannabis plant.
“I am the executive director of the South African Cannabis Growers Association (SACGA), which comprises a number of professionals and cannabis farmers who want to enter the industry at different levels of the cannabis value chain. In this association we have environmentalists, agricultural scientists, lawyers, farmers and traders.
“The association in the main, assists members to align their aspirations of entering the cannabis business within a specific value chain. Many people are interested in getting into the cannabis business, but what we are seeing right now is that there is not enough information about this industry for especially communities, such as the youth, women and rural farmers to know how best they can get into the business and align their businesses with a specific value chain,” Mamba told Cannabis Business Africa in an interview this week.
This lack of information leads to confusion, he argues.
“For example you cannot say I want to get into the business to farm process and trade. I mean that is impossible to do successfully and therefore one needs to decide which part of the value chain they want to operate in,” he advised.
He said that his association has positioned itself to work closely with communities and see how best iy can assist them to enter into the cannabis business by connecting such communities with strategic partners.
“For example, there are already government departments that can be partnered with by communities, such as the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, when it comes to rural cannabis farmers, the Department of Trade and Industry that could be approached to partner with the youth and especially women cannabis entrepreneurs. Our role as an association is to assist in forging such strategic partnerships.
“The Department of Education and Training, is also another strategic partner, especially when it comes to acquiring technical skills in cannabis, especially the production part of it. In that regard, we have approached Vaal University of Technology to see if they cannot assist when it comes to cannabis skills training for those who would like to go into the agro-processing part of the value chain, because that part of the cannabis business is very technical, the production side of it,” Mamba said.
Although Mamba could not indicate how many members are there, he said as an association whose membership includes almost everyone in any of the several value chains of the cannabis industry, they expect the association to grow fast, but currently its membership is mainly from Gauteng Province, with the biggest concentration of membership being Pretoria where the association was founded in 2019.
“The members of the association were active in the cannabis business in one form or another, way before the founding of the association. We legally registered the association in 2019,” he pointed out.
The association lists is Mission as follows: Research, Training, Advocacy and Development
.To promote the growth of a responsible and legitimate Agricultural Cannabis Industry and work for a favorable transformation in the agricultural sector for a sustainable development of emerging cannabis farmers.
.To promote an appropriate and sustainable partnership with government and other civil society organizations and other stakeholders to eradicate poverty and its causes, unemployment, women and youth empowerment and development of co-operative governance.
.To promote research, both basic and applied and the extension and transfer of knowledge in various fields of agriculture, health, industrial, indigenous technology and environmental affairs.
.To protect the environment through the securing of ecological sustainability, the development and use of natural resources while promoting a sustainable and justifiable economy and social development.
.To develop and improve skills in cannabis industry
.Planning for National and International growth in the cannabis Industry.
.To promote the farming of medical plants and their commercialization thereof.
.To promote Urban Farming for sustainable development.
.To establish a Cannabis Research Centre
.To organize a Cannabis Expo
.To offer packaging and labeling services to the cannabis industry
.To offer Clone Sourcing services
To provided seed genetics and strain selection (Seed Bank) services
.To secure good agriculture facilitators for members
.To secure good laboratory training facilitators to members
.To offer agro processing services to members
.To come up with Climate change initiatives
.To establish a Data warehouse for cannabis farmers