Lesotho, with just 2 million citizens, is the smallest country by size in Africa but it leads the continent in medical marijuana cultivation. Rows of greenhouses are taking shape in the highlands of the kingdom, and drawing a dozen investors from Canada, South Africa and the US.
Matekoane’, as medical cannabis is known locally in Lesotho, may soon emerge as the tiny kingdom’s largest agriculture export. Natural fortune favors Lesotho. First, the Kingdom of Lesotho has 305 days of sunshine per year and abundant fresh water reserves that it exports some of its water to neighboring South Africa.
‘We are just perfect for medical cannabis,’ says Lesotho Health minister Manthabiseng Phohleli. ‘’We don’t want to play catch up when the rest of Africa notices the dazzle of dollars in medical cannabis.” Lesotho is the fi rst country in Africa to legalize the cultivation of medical cannabis, she explains. Infrastructure for medical cannabis in Lesotho is taking shape. High up in its slopes, cannabis corporations like Medigrow are building helipads to land helicopters. This is necessary because mountainous Lesotho is the highest country in Africa in terms of altitude.
In fact, it is the only country on earth whose whole territory sits at 1400 meters above sea level. It is here that Medigrow has sunk $20 million in its cannabis fields in Lesotho easily making it the largest agriculture employer in the kingdom. Medigrow has 30 giant greenhouses in Lesotho. ‘’Each plastic tent contain 4000 cannabis plants.
This is massive,” says its head of farming Relebohile Liphoto. Medigrow holds an “Operator’s License”, issued in terms of the Lesotho Drugs of Abuse Act of 2008; which allows it to cultivate, extract and process cannabis and hemp for medical purposes.‘’Our goal is to harvest more than 1000 liters of CBD oil.
We can sell that between $6000 and $20,000 per liter abroad,” he says.Unlike much of Africa where the cultivation of medical cannabis is a grey legal zone, the rules are clear and straightforward in Lesotho. It costs 30,000 euro per annum upfront to secure a license to grow medical cannabis in Lesotho. This license must be renewed yearly. Cultivators are required to fulfi l medical-legal standards, Lesotho health minister says.
This means most traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the main psychoactive constituent responsible for marijuana’s intoxicating effects—are removed from the seeds. The remaining medical version is primarily made of the non-psychoactive substance, cannabidiol (CBD), and can only be 0.03 percent THC.Local small-scale farmers are not entirely happy however. ‘’The license fee is too prohibitive for us locals,’’ says Silone Ngwana, 54, a strawberries and carrots farmer.
Siloane says locals end up growing cannabis illegally and selling to smugglers who take to South Africa. “Vegetables bring food to our families. Cannabis earns us cash. As locals we need cheap or free licenses to enter the cannabis farming and avoid the unlicensed markets.”
Written and Published By Ray Mwareya In Weed World Magazine Issue 143