Cannabis Opportunities in Africa
By: Shira Petrack
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
African farmers have been growing cannabis in Africa for centuries. Nevertheless, consumption of the plant for either medical or recreational purposes is banned almost everywhere on the continent. Recently, however, the growing global demand for medical cannabis has caused several African countries to rethink their cannabis cultivation laws.
Indeed, as more and more countries worldwide legalize marijuana consumption for medicinal and even recreational purposes, the market for legal cannabis is exploding. The global market for legal cannabis is expected to reach almost $43 billion by 2024. By 2027, the demand for legal cannabis in Europe alone should hit $37 billion, up from $3.5 billion in 2019 – an almost 30% CAGR.
Legal Cannabis Cultivation is Growing in Africa
In 2017, Lesotho became the first country on the continent to grant an administrative license for the commercial cultivation of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes. Since then, several countries have followed suit, including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi, eSwatini, Zambia, Uganda, and Rwanda. Ghana has also authorized cannabis production, but only for varieties with THC (the plant’s psychoactive ingredient) levels of 0.3% or less.
Some of these countries, such as Malawi and Zimbabwe, are major tobacco exporters. Policy makers hope that cannabis can replace tobacco as the country’s top cash crop, given tobacco’s destructive environmental footprint.
While most countries that allow cultivation also authorize the consumption of cannabis for medical purposes, Uganda and Rwanda are currently growing the plant strictly for exports.
In other countries where cannabis production is still illegal, such as Tanzania and Kenya, large amounts of the crop are still grown and exported. The economic incentives to legalize the already existing cannabis trade might mean that these countries’ regulations could also change.
What Makes Africa Particularly Suited for Cannabis Cultivation?
Most of Africa’s climate is favorable to cannabis cultivation. The plant likes warm and sunny weather and does not do so well in the cold. Certain cannabis strains can also thrive in extreme heat. Some growing techniques such as dry farming allow farmers to grow the crop using mostly rainfall with minimal additional watering if the climate conditions are right. Drip irrigation is also a cheap and efficient way to water cannabis crops in Africa.
The cannabis plant grows in stages. First come the initial germination and seedling. Then, the plant enters the vegetative phase and produces most of its leaves and branches. After several weeks, the plant can enter the flowering stage. If the plant is a male plant, it will grow pollen sacks. If it is a female plant, it will produce flowers (“buds”) that can be smoked or processed into tinctures and oils.
The plant switches from the vegetative phase when the days begin to shorten and the nights last at least 12 hours. Even though cannabis needs 12 hours of darkness to bloom, prolonged and continuous sunlight (up to 12 hours) will produce the best flowers. Thus, most of Africa is optimal for cannabis production since almost the entire continent lies within 35 degrees of the Equator, where the days never get too short.
While many areas of the United States are suitable for outdoor cannabis cultivation, most of Europe lies north of the 40th parallel and so does not receive enough sunlight during the winter. The plant cannot flower in the European summer either, since the long summer days keep the plant in the vegetative phase. Of course, European growers could grow their crops indoors using artificial lights, but this requires a tremendous amount of electricity, which is costly both in terms of money and environmental toll.
Global Potential of Africa’s Cannabis Market
Africa, with its favorable climate conditions and proximity to Europe, seems well placed to cater to the growing European market for medical cannabis. The continent’s warm weather, rich soil, and abundant sunshine can help it compete against established cannabis powerhouses. Unlike Canada or the Netherlends, where the cold climate requires cannabis to be grown in resource intensive greenhouses, cannabis in Africa can be cultivated outdoors in open fields. Indeed, several American and Canadian companies have already set up or expressed interest in setting up farms and processing plants on the continent, despite the flourishing cannabis cultivation industry in their home countries.
Setting Up a Cannabis Operation in Africa
There are a lot of factors to consider before setting up a cannabis operation in Africa. First and foremost, you need to decide on the country. Some countries have legalized medical cannabis cultivation but not processing. Others authorize processing but have already granted long-term exclusive licenses to major companies. Your target market will also affect your choice since different countries have different export agreements with off-continent partners.
Once you’ve decided what country you want to work in, getting the legal license can pose a new set of complications. And after you receive your license, you will need to build your operation, hire the right people, and set up your local supply chain.
That’s where we come in. Empower Africa’s Agriculture Solutions and Consulting Services combine the world’s top agronomy experts, industry-leading technology, and tailor-made business-oriented solutions. We can walk you through the process to help you build the most efficient and profitable version of your African cannabis operation.
Contact us, and let’s grow your business.