Kampala — As Uganda prepares to ship its first medical marijuana products to Canada and Germany next month, a new report on the nascent cannabis industry in Africa finds that the continent could reap significant financial rewards through growing weed for medical purposes.
The 2019 African Cannabis Report by New Frontier Data, a UK-based authority in data analytics and business intelligence on the global cannabis industry, estimates that Africa's legal cannabis industry could be worth billions of dollars if legislation is introduced in a number of the continent's major markets.
"International demand offers a strong opportunity to unlock the potential value of Africa's legally produced cannabis, which could be worth up to $7.1 billion (about Shs26.3 trillion) annually by 2023 - the bulk of which will come from the production sector," the new report reads in part.
New Frontier Data Founder and CEO Giadha Aguirre de Carcer explained: "Demand for [Cannabinol] CBD products continues to surge across Europe, and many including Canada, which now imports from Colombia to help meet this growing demand, are looking to capitalise on it. It will be interesting to see if Africa's proximity to the old continent and its many agro-based economies may be better positioned to provide a more cost-effective supply."
The report is based on engagement with stakeholders on the ground, and intended for African policymakers, government officials, entrepreneurs, foreign investors, and casual observers interested in the medical cannabis and industrial hemp markets for their potential benefits in Africa.
It is also important to note that Cannabis, and the industries surrounding the plant, could help achieve several of the United Nation's current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those of highest priority to African citizens; in fact many of the low-tech, low-cost, accessible applications of industrial hemp in particular could be activated relatively quickly to improve health standards across the continent, as well as to begin increasing national GDPs in support of stronger global economies in the years to come.
Governments must prepare now to effectively shape the medical cannabis and industrial hemp industries that they want in the future.
In 2015, Uganda enacted The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act that allows cultivation, production and exportation of medical marijuana.
The government has also licensed Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd to grow and export medical marijuana for medical purposes. This company is currently working with Together Pharma Limited, one of the biggest Israeli cannabis firm on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
They have established marijuana farms in Hima and Kasese districts in western Uganda.
More than 20 local companies have also submitted their requests to the Health minister seeking to grow marijuana for medical purposes.
The law mandates health minister to issue written consent for medical marijuana.
However, the minister insists the applications will have to wait for the final decision of cabinet, which is still discussing the financial and health benefits of marijuana.
The new Africa report adds: "Not only is hemp a potential low tech, high profit margin, new crop to invigorate African economies; it could also support United Nations' current Sustainable Development Goals such as fostering regional inclusive economic growth and creating sustainable jobs."
The new Africa regional hemp and cannabis report however, estimates the current Africa's total cannabis market at $37.3 billion (about Shs140 trillion), more than 11 per cent of the total global cannabis market.
The report will be released today at the InterCannAlliance Africa Symposium, Africa's premier hemp and cannabis event in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
But with affordable land, low-cost labour and an experienced agricultural workforce, researchers at the New Frontier Data, found that African continent offers enormous opportunity to local start-ups and foreign companies looking to expand.
However, the report warns that inadequate healthcare systems in most of the African countries means that even if medicinal cannabis were to be legalised across the continent, access to products would be limited.
Although those in fovour of medical marijuana have welcomed the report findings and asked Cabinet to expedite the pending licences to new companies, Makerere University Business School Principal, Prof Wasswa Balunywa and others against ganja planting, asked government to go slow and highlighted the dangers of drug abuse in the country, especially among the youth.
"Uganda is looking for opportunities to be able to make money but many countries have had a problem of drug abuse, it's a big challenge everywhere in the world. Those who use the drug get addicted and in the process lose control of their lives and at times people get mad or die in the process," Prof Balunywa said, adding: "The problem of drug abuse has not been very big in our country but in recent years the problem has been growing. We at the universities are continuously seeing the number of drug users increase. We don't have evidence but we know that there are people selling drugs in hostels."
Controlling the usage
He added: "Some drugs with medicinal values and they have been allowed in western countries have been allowed but what I am not sure about in the case of Uganda is our ability to control the usage of drugs. But if we are growing drugs for the purposes of exporting and earning money, it is a wonderful idea but we should have a full discussion involving many stakeholders to see how to stop these drugs from falling in the wrong hands."
Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, a consultant and a researcher, accepts that many countries are already engaged in growing marijuana for medical purposes and called for "a strong regulation to stop abuse".
Other stakeholders who talked to Daily Monitor however, suggested that all the companies seeking to grow the crop be vetted by security and be limited to five.
Although widely grown across the continent, the new Africa report found that cannabis is illegal in most African countries, adding: "High unemployment rates and a global decline in demand for tobacco crops has hit [African] economies hard."
However, the report notes that the region has a wealth of experience in cannabis cultivation.
Source of income
Despite its illegality, many agricultural workers have turned to cannabis farming as the only way to earn enough money to provide for the basic needs of their families.
Since Lesotho became the first African nation to legalise medical cannabis in 2017, the report says Africa's annual cannabis use rate has been nearly twice the global average use rate of 6 per cent.
But Africa's largest cannabis markets are those with the largest populations with Nigeria at $15.3 billion (about Shs57 trillion) and Ethiopia at $9.8 billion (about Shs37 trillion) leading the way.
About New Frontier Data
New Frontier Data is an independent, technology-driven analytics company specialising in the cannabis industry.
It offers vetted data, actionable business intelligence and risk management solutions for investors, operators, researchers and policy makers.
New Frontier Data's reports and data have been cited in over 80 countries around the world to inform industry leaders.
New Frontier Data does not take a position on the merits of cannabis legalisation.
Rather, its mission and mandate are to inform cannabis-related policy and business decisions through rigorous, issue-neutral and comprehensive analysis of the legal cannabis industry worldwide.