The State of the (Hemp) Nation
25 years of Hemporium came and went this year. Unfortunately without the celebration, we would have hoped for due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, a quarter-century of serving the hemp industry in South Africa and providing quality hemp products to our customers is definitely something worth celebrating.
We are ending the year off on a high note though with the pronouncement from the Minister of Health that Hemp has finally found a home in the Plant Improvement Act.
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Last month Minister Didiza of the DALRRD declared that:” HEMP is an agricultural crop under the Plant Improvement Act, no.53 of 1976. This Act provides for import and export control of certain plants and propagating material, maintaining the quality of such plants and propagating material, and ensuring the usefulness of the products thereof for agricultural and industrial purposes.”
This is a huge milestone as it finally gives recognition to industrial cannabis/hemp as a valuable plant. This is now in stark opposition to the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of the Department of Justice which still states that “Cannabis, the whole plant, any product or portion thereof…is an undesirable dependence producing substance”.
This act clearly needs amending too as until then the police can still use it to harass hemp farmers if they so desire, as well as continuing the horrific “war on drugs” and arresting and traumatizing those that choose to use this plant for other reasons.
While we are seeing huge steps forward, there are still several major concerns:
- This pronouncement and the opening of the hemp permit application process are coming after planting season. Therefore South African farmers miss out on another year of hemp growth.
- The limit of 0.2% that they have set for hemp in South Africa is one of the most stringent in the world. This limits our farmers to varieties that have been shown to not perform optimally in our climate. Compounded with this is the fact that there are no registered seeds readily available in SA and import permits are needed. This means more delays are expected.
- The requirements for 2-meter-high fencing around the crop are unnecessary and a huge barrier to entry for small and large-scale farming alike. The cost to fence multiple hectares will be very high. In comparison, there are no fences in Europe, Asia, or North America for hemp fields.
- The exclusion of hemp-derived CBD as a product for South African farmers is denying them access to one of the most profitable aspects of the plant.
So while we are encouraged by the progress made, we know there is still work to be done in order to truly create an enabling environment for the hemp industry to flourish.
It seems the regulations are more aimed at controlling than enabling the industry.
There needs to be more focus on the agro-processing and value-chain development aspect of the industry. Cultivation is just the first step and without access to processing, it will be very hard to sell raw hemp from the fields.
We are confident that there will soon be some local hemp products available, but it will be a while before we see the more refined products like textiles produced here. At least the journey has begun.
We do wish those farmers who manage to get their permits and seeds in time to still plant this season a bountiful harvest. We remain committed to helping create a sustainable marketplace for hemp products.