A flourishing dagga industry is high on the agenda of new Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane, especially in the Pondoland area, where locals have been farming the wisdom herb for a long time.
If he has his way, Mabuyane says he intends to formalise the cultivation and trade in dagga which he says would have immense economic benefits for the people in the province.
Mabuyane told City Press in an interview last week that he has been thinking about this since his conversation with South Africa’s High Commissioner to Canada who told him that cannabis was big business in that country and parts of Europe.
He said the discussion, during last year’s Presidential Investment Conference in Johannesburg, opened his eyes to a possible lucrative industry in the province.
“He took me through this sector and how huge it was in Europe [and] particularly in Canada, its multiply effect and its value addition in the entire economy.
“I was shocked because of the stigma we grew up knowing dagga for, which is just for smoking and getting high.
“We did not realise that dagga was also medicine. That is why even our courts have come to the decision that it can be used for medical purposes,” Mabuyane said.
He said the province would now take advantage of the fact that dagga was a natural herb and “gold”, especially in the Pondoland area – which includes the towns of Port St John’s, Lusikisiki, Libode, Mbizana and Ntabankulu – where people have been growing and dealing in dagga for years.
“It’s a huge business. We are looking at this cannabis industry as an industry that can definitely turn around [the economy] and it talks directly to our people where they are.”
The premier said they would now follow the necessary legal processes to help them regulate the industry.
This would help industrialise the area where dagga is grown and packaged, resulting in a formalised trade with dedicated dagga farms.
“Since we started talking about this [dagga industry] I can see that everyone has been waiting for this to happen. There has been a lot of international interest ... with people ready to do presentations. Some [dagga] companies currently working in Lesotho have also asked to come and make proposals.
“As I speak to you am looking at a proposal from someone in Denmark. We have been sitting on something that could have been used long time ago to open up opportunities for our people,” he said.
Mabuyane said there was a need to change the stigma around dagga and exploit its potential while exploring its economic spin-offs. “We want to grow it to develop our people – not for smoking,” he said.
The premier said they were planning to put together a team from the department of economic development and the department of rural development and agrarian reform to start working on feasibility studies based on what is currently available in order to start dagga farms.
Mabuyane said those who had been growing dagga illegally for years would have to be embraced.
“My attitude is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but [we] must affirm those people who have been in the industry formally or informally, and set up cooperatives, formalise them and make them understand that they must work within the law so that we maximise opportunities out of this,” he said.
“So, we will be working with everyone on the ground … we have got to help them register, get regulations and get the necessary permission. We cannot take people [from] elsewhere to do that. We will work with people where this can easily be planted,” the premier said.
Mabuyane said out of the dagga industry they were also looking at other spin-offs such as bio-fuel.
The premier said they wanted to have a fully-fledged dagga industry in the province.
“In this administration we must create a solid foundation around this. If we are given the necessary regulations for it to be formalised then there is no reason to wait for too long to implement it,” said Mabuyane.