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Stellenbosch growers send cannabis tissue culture to Israel in a first for South Africa

Business Insider SA
South Africa cannabis to Israel
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  • A farm in Stellenbosch best known for its strawberries is now making its mark on the international cannabis market.
  • Felbridge, in addition to exporting cannabis flower, has supplied sought-after tissue culture to Europe.
  • Its latest deal, a first for the company and South Africa, has seen a shipment of cannabis tissue culture arrive in Israel.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A Stellenbosch-based cultivator and distributor of medical cannabis has exported tissue culture to Israel, adding to a growing list of firsts for South Africa.

The Zetler family name carries great weight in Stellenbosch. Four generations have farmed in the district, specialising in strawberry and hydroponic sweet pepper production. In 2017, the Zetler's cannabis company, Felbridge, applied to become a licenced cannabis producer.

Felbridge's licence to grow on 14,000 square-metres, granted by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), was awarded less than a year after the landmark Constitutional Court ruling which decriminalised the private, personal use of cannabis. This ruling has played an important role in setting the roadmap for the commercialisation and industrialisation of cannabis.

Shortly after getting its license, Felbridge exported medical cannabis, grown at its Stellenbosch facility, to Switzerland.

See also | Inside Cape Town’s newest members-only cannabis club

In addition to supplying dry cannabis flower to global markets, Felbridge has, through partnerships with biogenetic firms in Europe, become best known for producing and exporting genetically superior cannabis varieties in the form of tissue culture.

Using advanced, artificial intelligence-driven breeding technology, Felbridge is able to produce starting material – cannabis tissue culture – that is free of pathogens and of the highest biological quality. These genetic libraries offer cannabinoids with a wide range of characteristics or traits, such as flavour, disease resistances, flower size, and yield to suit the need of the producers.

"Tissue culture is the gold standard in propagation of any plant," Barry Zetler of Felbridge told Business Insider South Africa.

"It's done in a sterile environment which results in a final tissue that is pathogen free, free of any viruses, which can be multiplied and put into production."

It's this production and supply of sought-after cannabis tissue culture that has earned Felbridge and South Africa many firsts. Felbridge has already exported product to Spain, North Macedonia, Switzerland, and Lesotho.

The company's latest deal, in partnership with Perfect Plants in the Netherlands, has seen the successful export of a batch of cannabis tissue culture to a licensed producer in Israel. Another first for South Africa.

"At Felbridge, with our cloning capacity and with an onsite lab, we're well placed to handle the tissue, as well as exports out of the facility," said Zetler.

"It's really remarkable that we've been able to scale up in such a short period of time and to think that tissue propagated in South Africa is powering licensed producers in Europe and the Middle East is really impressive."

Zetler added that Felbridge was in the process of planning export deals to new markets across Europe and North America. 

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