The Eastern Cape’s cannabis industry has been touted as a game-changer that will be used to uplift the stagnant economy in the province and create much-needed jobs.
On Thursday, various role players attended the first cannabis stakeholder engagement session to deliberate on how the plant can be used for the benefit of the province.
Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, which was released earlier last week, showed that the Eastern Cape had the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Premier Oscar Mabuyane said the idea for the engagement session came about when he met South Africa’s ambassador to Canada, Nyameko Goso, who gave Mabuyane a reason to look at the cannabis sector differently after a short presentation on how cannabis products had created a booming economy in Canada, especially in Toronto, where Goso is based.
Mabuyane said government was working tirelessly to find sustainable solutions to unemployment.
“We shared with the people of our province that we will focus on manufacturing, agricultural production and processing to achieve economic transformation and job creation,” he said.
Mabuyane said there was only one agenda, which was to create a thriving, legal cannabis economy in the province to create jobs.
“This means we want to focus on utilising cannabis for medicinal purposes; to manufacture products such as fibre that is used to build aeroplanes; to manufacture clothing; and to produce biofuels and other essential products that are used globally.”
The Eastern Cape is a sleeping giant that needs to be awakened and could easily be a main player in this niche industry.
“Gauteng has gold and other minerals; the Western Cape has a thriving fish industry; here, we are endowed naturally with cannabis. We must play our cards right to formalise this industry to grow our economy, particularly in the rural hinterland, where fertile land is available for huge cannabis production,” he said.
Mabuyane said it was important that the uncertainty in the regulatory framework for cannabis production be cleared up, adding that he was happy to hear Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announcing in his budget speech that there would be policy changes regarding the cannabis industry so that it could become a source of revenue.
“As a country, I think we are not doing justice to ourselves and our citizens who are yearning for jobs when we continuously create tedious red tape that frustrates economic development. Communal farmers are eager to participate – they have the land, but the licensing regime is frustrating them. The tiny nation of Lesotho is way ahead of us and is already reaping rewards in the cannabis industry and exporting the product to Canada.”
Goso said he was impressed by how some of the people in Pondoland areas, such as Emantlaneni in Lusikisiki, had developed expertise and put infrastructure in place over the years to grow cannabis, and could therefore grow the plant all year round.
“The experts in this industry are indigenous people who have been growing the plant for years.”
Goso said his job entailed dealing with trade and investment, and meeting with companies, stock exchanges, stockbrokers and investors.
“So, in this industry, Canada has taken the lead because it took bold steps,” he said
Goso said when the mining industry was dying in Canada, it was the cannabis industry that brought life back into the markets.
“Cannabis companies in Canada are listed on the stock exchanges. There are about nine stock exchanges there, all of them active. The biggest money being invested and raised is from the cannabis industry,” said Goso.
Jason Law, from the Cannabis Development Council of SA, said the province needed infrastructure and agroprocessing knowledge to get a high-value commodity crop: “This is a commodity for the people who are sitting in the rural areas; who are custodians of the cannabis.”