The medical cannabis industry in Lesotho has begun taking root with one of the companies operating in the industry, Medigrow set for the first sale of its commercial produce this year, expects to sell its first commercial produce by the second quarter of 2019.
The company, which has been operating for over a year now, says it is 24 months away from completing the construction of its full-scale production facilities.
Lesotho is the first African country to legalise the growing of medical marijuana (cannabis) amid high expectations that the country would immensely benefit from the world-wide industry which is projected by forbes.com to grow from US$7, 7 billion in 2017 to $31, 4 billion in 2021.
The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Each one has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals used in medicine. Recreational cannabis has higher content of THC while medicinal has higher content of CBD.
In an interview with Lesotho Times this week, chief executive Andre Bothma said a lot of work has already been laid down with over M250 million already spent on the project.
“We have already installed the critical infrastructure, water, electricity, tunnels, acquisition of essential expertise and employment of 300 people to date,” Mr Bothma said.
He said their staff compliment includes people with high-end science skills like biochemistry, agricultural sciences and pharmacists among others.
While the majority of licence holders are yet to make any movement, Medigrow is already miles ahead and Mr Bothma attributes their achievements to sheer determination.
“Nothing but dogged determination; a team with diverse but complementary capabilities.”
Out of 33 companies that have been granted operating licences, only 13 were reported to have been able to raise the previously required M540 000 as licence fees by the end of 2018.
He however, said it has not been smooth sailing as they have encountered a number of challenges including scarcity of relevant skills and expertise.
“We have had to develop our own human capital.”
Health minister Nkaku Kabi recently spoke of the need for the country to deliberately develop its human resource capital base to take advantage of being a first mover to open the industry.
“We can benefit a lot from the first movers’ advantage as we also have favourable altitude and climatic conditions which significantly lower the production costs,” Mr Kabi said during his recent tour of Medigrow production facilities at Marakabei.
Mr Bothma said his vision is to see Medigrow Lesotho developing into a market leader in cannabis products.
“I would like to see the company become a leading producer of pharmaceutical grade products derived from cannabis, hemp and other natural substances.”
Asked why Lesotho is regarded as a suitable base for production of medical marijuana, he said the country has a favourable legislative framework, conducive climate with an abundance of clean water and low input costs.
Apart from the health benefits to the country, Mr Bothma said other benefits include “economic impact through direct employment, indirect employment of people in industries supporting and ancillary to cannabis industry as well as multiplier effect of extended families that will be taken care of by those directly or industry employed in the industry”.
He said other possible spin-off ventures include the development of a pharmaceutical industry and professional services like attorneys, financial institutions, security export agencies, other suppliers and vendors like catering and food supplies.