Can Hemp Farming in Africa Provide New Jobs?
Africa’s economy is in distress, with record high unemployment rates in developed areas. By the end of 2021, the unemployment rate was over 35%, with no end to the crisis. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturing and construction were highlighted as taking the most significant hit.
The struggle to provide isn’t new for the farming industry. Farmers struggling to put food on the table have turned to more profitable enterprises, like poaching or growing cannabis. Though technically illegal, low policing allowed farmers to profit off of cannabis for the production of marijuana and hemp.
The Economic Turnaround Plan
In early 2022, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a new initiative to kickstart the economy with the hemp industry.
Hemp is part of the cannabis plant used in textiles, food, insulation and biofuel. It’s part of the cannabis plant, which also grows marijuana. While hemp is profitable to many parts of the world, efforts in the movement to make the crop an economic staple have failed in the past.
To understand the potential of this new plan, we should first look at the history of hemp on the continent.
History of Hemp in Africa
Through the early 1900s, hemp was cultivated in Madagascar, but didn’t have the appeal of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing marijuana due to the latter’s psychoactive properties.
From the 1920s to the 1950s, cannabis was grown discreetly by farmers in several countries, including Nigeria and South Sudan, to evade legal action. Though some farms were cultivating the crop for personal use, others sold it and made a profit. Some farmers preferred cannabis over other crops since it had earned them more income than the legal crops they were growing. Eventually, government leaders pushed for the legalization of cannabis after seeing the demand for it.
However, when South Africa first legalized cannabis, it was for medical marijuana only and wasn’t legalized to grow for personal use until 2018. In 2019, investors revealed they contributed to a 154-square-mile cannabis farm in West Africa that had yet to see the light of day. Many criticized the seriousness of efforts to add hemp as a primary economic source in Africa.
Not much else was heard until Ramaphosa’s 2022 speech, where he spoke of kickstarting the cannabis industry once and for all in his nation, estimating that it would create up to 130,000 jobs.
Hemp in Africa’s Future
Experts think this time may work out differently for South Africa. Experts estimate that by 2050, 80% of Africa’s population will live in cities and have a higher market for hemp and other cannabis products. If this prediction pans out, this could be a significant economic boost for the struggling nation.
While marijuana has been the focus in years past, global demand for hemp has grown exponentially. Experts estimated the value of the international industrial hemp market as $4.13 billion in 2021, with a 16.8% growth rate through 2030. Wildlife conservationists are hoping that legalizing the hemp industry will reduce poaching, as some farmers had turned to the practice as a way to support their families. The hemp industry has grown privately throughout the last decade and making it mainstream could be what’s needed to see an impact.
If Africa can utilize the industry by adding processing plants and producing hemp products, they could cut into the industry. Commercializing hemp could make Africa a significant presence in that global market, while hemp products could reinvigorate the construction and manufacturing industries.
Will the Hemp Farming Plan Succeed?
At this point, it’s hard to know the exact effect Ramaphosa’s plan will have on South Africa and whether success in the nation will create a chain reaction throughout the continent. By taking proper action and utilizing the resources provided by outside investors, the industry could be exactly what’s needed to get its citizens employed.