By Edward Tsumele
Lesotho, a country surrounded by South Africa all round, is one of the tiniest countries and most probably the poorest in Southern Africa with a GDP of 2.376 billion USD and a population of 2.2 million.
However the country in recent years achieved a monumental feat its richer neighbours are still grappling with, and that is legalising medical cannabis.
The country has the distinction of being the first African country to legalise commercial production of medical cannabis in Africa in 2018, ahead of its richer neighbor, South Africa, and other southern African countries. With unemployment high and poverty levels huge, the country regards the legalisation of medical cannabis for the lucrative export market to especially overseas countries, such as Canada in North America, where cannabis is fully legalised, and Europe, as a gateway to eradicating poverty and creating employment among its population.
And so far the results are pleasing as a number of companies, especially from Canada are pouring in with direct investment in the country in the cannabis sector and thousands of Basothos are getting employed in the value chain of the cannabis business, from growing, extraction and exporting.
For example MG Health Ltd. has become the predominant supplier of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products, at a farm and oil extraction facility in Lesotho.
It is clear that legal cannabis companies, such as MG Health are in fact disrupting a well entrenched illicit cannabis market in Lesotho as the illicit cultivation of cannabis goes back many years in Lesotho as cannabis was long used as medicine by the indigenous population of the country.
MG Health, Lesotho’s biggest commercial producer, received C$10 million ($7.6 million) from Supreme Cannabis last year in exchange for 10% of the business then known as Medigrow Lesotho (Supreme has said it eventually wants to export medical cannabis oils from Lesotho to Canada). MG Health plans to employ as many as 3,000 workers locally—up from about 350 currently—once it reaches full production in a few years, says Chief Executive Officer Andre Bothma The company harvests a strain of marijuana with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the compound that gets you stoned—to comply with regulations. It exports nonpsychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) oil extracts and other medical cannabis products primarily to South Africa, and is working on entering markets in Europe and the Middle East, as well as Australia.
.The fact that the illicit trade in cannabis is more lucrative as . it’s easier to grow and more lucrative than other crops such as maize and sugar cane, and Lesotho’s ’s abundant water and fertile soil provide ideal conditions for the crop to grow.
However now with the advent of this new interest in cannabis globally, the government is now focusing on the development of legal plantations supplying the growing global medical cannabis industry to add to income the traditional dominant exports of diamonds, water and wool.
In 2018, Lesotho became the first African nation to issue licenses for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Foreign investors including, Canadian companies Supreme Cannabis Co., Canopy Growth Corp. And Aphria Inc. have since poured tens of millions of dollars into a handful of facilities, drawn by the low cost of production.