A group of farmers have dispelled the myth that government initiatives seldom have an impact on the lives of ordinary, real people.
Recently, 664 hemp and cannabis farmers who are on the KwaZulu-Natal Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) database, received permits which grants them authorisation to cultivate, store and transport content with a Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) of not more than 0.2%.
THC is the major psychoactive component and one of the 113 cannabinoids recognised in cannabis.
What does the handing over of the permits mean you ask? It means that the permits, handed over at a provincial Cannabis Expo and Conference, held at Okhahlamba Sports Complex in Bergville, will enable the farmers to have access to cutting edge technology through the Analytical Lab based at Cedara in uMgungundlovu District Municipality, near Pietermaritzburg.
To grow the local sector, the MECs of the provincial Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) invited captains of industry, including experts, academics, Amakhosi and local growers to a two-day expo and conference to share ideas that will grow the sector to its full potential.
Held under the theme: “One love, one heart,” the event provided a platform for local cannabis and hemp farmers, and others with an interest in the sector to engage with business and academia.
Among the issues under discussion were that of regulations, registration, production, agro processing and exports.
Local business who will be providing services to permit recipients were also granted R300 000 each. Services include processing, erecting tunnels and providing lab equipment, packaging, testing, and finding a market for farmers.
The first citizen of the province, Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube said the expo and conference will be etched in the minds of the people, as the starting point of a “new era for the cannabis sector in the province.”
Dube-Ncube noted that many milestones had been achieved through the KZN Cannabis Masterplan.
“Through DARD we have set aside an amount of R47 million for cannabis research. We have allocated R10 million to assist farmers in cannabis production and hemp permit application.
“We have facilitated an investment commitment of R120 million and we have participated in the Cannabis and Hemp Phakisa Action Lab in order to secure much-needed policy coherence and to ensure closer collaboration amongst government entities," she explained.
This as pilot projects targeting commercial growers are ongoing, and the province has supported several investment leads, which were in the process of rolling out district-based capacity building programmes under the umbrella of the proposed KZN Cannabis Association.
Reaping the rewards
EDTEA MEC Siboniso Duma said, the expo had been a success and that the work by both EDTEA and DARD was just beginning.
“We want our farmers to be the champions of the cannabis sector and we want them to be able to speak for themselves. We are giving them an assignment to come closer to us because what we have started together, will change people’s lives,” Duma said.
Meanwhile, DARD MEC Super Zuma said the province has worked steadfastly and the time to unlock the province’s prosperity through the hemp and cannabis sector, had now arrived.
“We have ensured a smooth process for our hemp permit holders and we covered all their costs. We are winning the fight to alleviate poverty and unemployment and we are extremely proud of the ongoing collaborative work that continues behind the scenes, and I must say all our collaborative efforts have yielded fruit,” Zuma said.
Permit recipient from the Umzinyathi District Municipality, Sphelele Shezi, said this was the beginning of great things for her small business of hair products, noting that the success of the products relies on hemp seed oil.
“I applied for my permit in July because I want to start extracting oil to use in our hairspray. We also manufacture shea butter which will soon be hemp infused.
“This permit will allow my business to grow and I have a vision of owning a manufacturing plant which will open up job opportunities,” Shezi said.
The owner of Old Grey Distillery--which manufactures cannabis infused beverages in Johannesburg-- Derek Collard, said his business has received great exposure at the expo.
“The expo has been superb. We started our business when cannabis became legal and we started experimenting with different cannabis infused gin flavours. We have met incredible contacts that we will be supplying. There are business opportunities as well as local growers that we could potentially partner with,” Collard said.
Nonhlanhla Qhoboshiyane, a hemp and cannabis farmer from Durban, who was introduced to the plants after falling ill, said she was grateful for the opportunity to be part of the informative expo.
“My interest started in 2016 when my husband and I were diagnosed with cancer. We used hemp oil and we would make cannabis leaf tea to help with the pain.
“These plants are from the Lord, created to bring about economic recovery in South Africa, there should be no stigma attached to them. The rural economy will grow because of hemp and cannabis,” she said.
In the 2023 State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Cyril Ramaphosa reiterated government’s commitment made in 2022 to unlock investment in the hemp and cannabis sector.
During the Phakisa Action Lab gathering held in June 2023, the President said the cannabis and hemp sector is one of 14 priority sectors that have been defined in government’s Country Investment Strategy as holding significant potential to secure investment, job creation and support for sustainable rural livelihoods, in recognition of people’s rights.
“I am confident that the collaborative commitment to work together which characterises our society, will find expression in the Hemp and Cannabis Phakisa, leading to immediate short term regulatory reform, the adoption of a set of foundational policy principles to achieve longer term legislative reform and a detailed plan to achieve inclusive growth and investment,” the President said at the time.
Participants at the Action Lab collectively agreed on the regulatory reforms required to better enable the development of the hemp and cannabis sector.
The reforms will unlock the potential of cannabis in African traditional medicine; pharmaceutical and complementary medicines; and multiple industrial applications.
The regulatory reforms agreed to include reviewing the schedules to the Medicines Act to further enable cannabis grown for non-medicinal uses, including industrial purposes.
The Phakisa Action Lab further resolved to explore mechanisms to fast-track the removal of cannabis from the Drugs Act.
This will be a historic achievement through which the cultivation of non-medicinal cannabis will be legal under the terms and conditions of the Plant Improvement Act, which falls under DALRRD.
The development of the hemp and cannabis industry has so far seen the issuing of 83 cannabis licences, four manufacturing licences and 30 research permits by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) since 2022. The authority is an entity of the Department of Health
The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has also issued 371 hemp permits, which has enabled significant investment, employment creation, the application of technology, intellectual property development and exports to highly competitive global markets.
And that is no smoke and mirrors story.