Malawian businessman and agriculture investor, Ibraham Aziz, says the Industrial Hemp industry has the potential to turn around the economic fortunes of the country within the next foreseeable future if substantial investment is made to cultivate the crop and produce for the export market.
Aziz was speaking in Blantyre when he unveiled a $15,000,000 (Fifteen million dollars) package to invest in the production of industrial grade hemp in the country in partnership with Lester International from the United Kingdom.
He said the raging anti-smoking campaign around the world, which is championed by the United Nations (UN), means that the future of tobacco as a major foreign exchange earner for Malawi is in jeopardy and that the country must quickly look for alternatives if it is to survive economically.
He said the scenario should have been a wakeup call for Malawi to cast its net wider in terms of looking for viable replacements for tobacco as a major foreign exchange earner for the country, adding that Malawi has the right climatic and geographical conditions that place it at an advantage to reap a lot of economic rewards from cultivating industrial hemp.
The businessman said the fact that this country has just passed legislation to allow production of industrial grade hemp should be looked at as a window of opportunity for private sector players to engage widely with local and international partners on how to utilize the same for larger economic benefits.
He said the opportunity calls for concerted efforts between the private sector, government and all stakeholders in order to come up with the right framework for the production of industrial grade hemp, which optimizes benefits for the local economy.
"This is the reason why we have brought in Lester International into the country because they are experienced investors in agriculture and particularly the industrial hemp sub-sector with an impeachable track record spanning many countries in the world.
"We know that with them on board as our partners we are set to benefit immensely from their experience in areas such as innovation in green house technology, which we hope will cascade down to add value to our processes and also help us establish and grow the industry here in Malawi," said Azizi, adding that Lester International is set to pump in $15, 000,000 as an initial capital with plans to invest more within the short to medium term.
He said a lot of investors come to Africa from Canada and the Netherlands mainly because it costs more to grow the hemp in their own countries and the crop is also not good compared to what is grown in Africa.
Aziz said this is the reason why many of these investors are trekking to Lesotho, Eswatini, South Africa and Zimbabwe to grow the crop, but added that with the passing of legislation Malawi has the opportunity to demonstrate that it is ready to do business by creating an enabling environment to attract investors to invest in the country.
Azizi said his organisation will use the smallholder farming business model to produce the industrial hemp in order to help empower local farmers through value addition within localised value chains.
Added Azizi: "Our business framework has been designed in a way to empower as many local farmers as possible through the provision of technology, training as well as markets for their hemp.
"We will train the farmers; provide them with loans for farm inputs and buy the hemp from them at good prices so that they enjoy uplifted lives through the economic ripple effects coming as a result of them playing an integral part in the growing and production of the hemp."
He said the business model will also help his organisation to avoid the complexity that comes with owning farm land in Malawi as well as help in reducing overhead costs, which will help free up resources that would be ploughed back into the business and finance more research and innovation.
Aziz said the organisation's objectives are in line and compliment efforts by government to create jobs particularly for the youths in this country as the concept also aims to promote farming as youth oriented SME's to help the youths create wealth and contribute to nation building.
In February this year, parliament of Malawi approved the Cannabis Regulation Bill, which legalized the cultivation, processing and marketing of industrial hemp in a landmark decision which set the allowable THC (the chemical that gives you the high), level at a full 1.0%, thereby allowing the country to join a growing number of countries around the world that have licenced the cultivation of industrial hemp on a commercial scale.
The bill was widely backed by legislators who hoped it would spur economic growth and move this country up the economic ladder with uplifted social and economic status for the people.
The passing of the Cannabis Regulation Bill led to the establishment of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority (CRA) which will be responsible for licensing and regulating medicinal and industrial hemp programmes in the country.
The CRA will also grant licences to cultivate process, store, sell, export and distribute the product as well as conduct scientific research programmes.
All licensees will be required to comply with security measures regarding cultivation, processing, storage and distribution of the product.
Among the 51 countries in Africa, 12 have now licenced the cultivation, processing and exporting of industrial grade hemp and Malawi is seen as a hot spot in terms of having the right climate; availability of water and terrain for growing hemp - as proven by Malawi Gold which has always been seen as one of the best quality recreational cannabis strain in the world.