Degrees for dagga growers and govt-supplied seeds – inside SA's Cannabis Master Plan

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South Africa Cannabis Master Plan
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  • South Africa's Cannabis Master Plan looks to industrialise and commercialise cannabis to unlock economic opportunities.
  • The potential size of South Africa's commercial cannabis industry is estimated to be R28 billion, with the ability to create up to 25,000 jobs.
  • But that potential can't be unlocked until legislation is adapted.
  • Once that's done, small-scale farmers can get their seeds directly from government.
  • And cannabis-related courses will be included in the curriculum of schools, colleges, and universities.
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South Africa is developing a strategy for the industrialisation and commercialisation of cannabis. The Cannabis Master Plan targets legislative reform, the development of a national seed supply system, formal education initiatives, and financial assistance for new small-scale and traditional growers.

The potential size of South Africa's commercial cannabis industry is estimated to be worth around R28 billion and has the potential to create up to 25,000 jobs, according to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD).

But current legislation, despite the private use of cannabis being decriminalised by the constitutional court in 2018, is a major hurdle in realising the economic potential of commercialisation.

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, still to be approved by parliament, does not make provision for the commercialisation of cannabis. And until amendments are made to the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act – to better align with the Medicines Act, which governs the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, import, and export of THC containing medicines – industrialisation remains prohibited, as noted by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC).

READ | In yet another huge dagga deal, major SA cannabis companies ink a R650 million merger

The Cannabis Master Plan, developed by the DALRRD, with input from the DTIC and several other departments, provides a regulatory framework to overcome these legislative hurdles. Beyond that, it lists practical ways in which to support the industry's growth. An update on the Cannabis Master Plan was presented by the DALRRD to parliament's portfolio committee on justice and correctional services on Wednesday.

"The schedules for the Medicines Act have been amended to reschedule cannabis which has helped a lot in moving us closer and closer to commercialisation," said Thabo Ramashala of the DALRRD in his presentation to parliament.

"But challenges still remain with the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act. There's been a number of challenges there… a lot of litigation."

While the first step to commercialising cannabis in South Africa rests with clear and effective regulatory systems, the Cannabis Master Plan lists eight other pillars and focus areas.

Creating a sustainable seed supply system

The Cannabis Master Plan places great importance on the establishment of a sustainable seed supply system, which will require all companies involved with the breeding, multiplication, and sale of cannabis seed to be registered certified.

"All cultivars of dagga and hemp will undergo testing to ensure their distinctiveness, uniformity and stability before they are released for sale on the South African market," said Ramashala, adding that seeds would undergo testing to ensure a level of quality for both the local and export market.

The plan proposes that government supplies certified cannabis seeds and other start-up production inputs to new, small scale farmers.

Supporting research and development programmes

Led by the Department of Science and Innovation, this pillar of South Africa's Cannabis Master Plan focuses on breeding new cultivars and strains of cannabis. This is to support a wide range of production, including cannabis used for food, medicine, beverages, textiles, construction material, and cosmetics.

This also includes the adoption of technology – like water and light systems – which will help farmers to produce high-yielding crops.

Supporting farmers to participate in the cannabis value chains

Specifically aimed at supporting small scale and traditional cannabis farmers, this focus area involves the "inclusion of current 'illegal' dagga growers into the formal system."

Technical support offered to these farmers includes information on cultivar choices, cultivation practices, pest, and disease control, harvesting, and post-harvest practices.

Financial support will be offered in the form of grants and loans to help farmers get started in the formal market.

Zoning for cannabis farming will be prioritised in areas where poverty and unemployment is high, according to the Cannabis Master Plan.

Developing new domestic and export markets

Led by the DTIC, this part of the plan aims to position South Africa as a key exporter of cannabis. It also proposes that government purchase cannabis products from resource poor farmers and manufacturers, with incentives offered to suppliers in the local and export market.

It includes the development of new processing plants and storage facilities to meet both local and international demand.

Supporting a wide range of suppliers to participate in the sector

Indigenous dagga growers and sellers are prioritised in this part of the plan. The Department of Small Business Development is tasked with developing and implementing special incubation programmes for new suppliers.

The department is also tasked with facilitating off-take agreements between cannabis growers and manufacturers.

Supporting the growth and development of the manufacturing sector

To develop South Africa's cannabis manufacturing capacity, the plan relies on investments from government, private sector, donors, and state owned entities. This includes the establishment of manufacturing plants which will produce materials and products from raw cannabis for both the local and international market.

Manufacturers will also be incentivised to develop new and innovative cannabis products.

Education and training for those looking to enter the cannabis sector

Led by the Department of Higher Education and Training, with support from the Department of Basic Education, the Cannabis Master Plan looks to develop formal and informal training programmes on cannabis growing and manufacturing.

This will see cannabis-related courses included in the curriculum of schools, colleges, and universities, with support from the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA).

A communication and awareness campaign

The Cannabis Master Plan also seeks to demystify some of the negative perceptions about cannabis, which will be led by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).

These "information and awareness programmes" will focus on "regulatory matters in order to promote compliance to government legislation and root out wrong doers." 

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