As the world smokes less this developing country is turning to weed to save its economy

A Malawian works near a tobacco shed in Chalenga village, some 20km west of the capital Lilongwe
A Malawian works near a tobacco shed in Chalenga village, some 20km west of the capital Lilongwe
Image: Reuters/Antony Njuguna
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Malawi is set to become the latest African country to legalize marijuana farming in a bid to boost its economy. It comes as its major foreign exchange earner tobacco, starts to see the impact of a decades-long global anti-smoking lobby led by organizations including the World Health Organization.

The country’s parliament has drafted a bill on legalizing industrial and medicinal hemp and is expected to be tabled with the national assembly soon.

Different stakeholders in the hemp industry have been calling on the government to speed up legislation on hemp farming so Malawi has an alternative forex earner apart from tobacco which currently accounts for 60% of forex earnings.

Tobacco sales have decreased over the years globally, as of July the world’s three biggest tobacco companies have each given up about 20% in market value this year. According to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, Altria the US maker of Marlboro, is down 18% and British American Tobacco, is down 22%.

The industry is struggling with the global shift away from cigarette smoking due to health concerns. For example, cigarette smoking in the United States fell to record low in 2017, with just 14% of all American adults smoking, a 67% decline from 1965, when 42% of adults smoked.

Malawi is feeling the pinch, as commodity prices for tobacco takes a hit. While prices at this year’s auction were $1.58 a kilogram, in recent years prices have been as low as 80 cents a kg.

Thus Malawi is looking towards industrial marijuana to supplement tobacco and expand the country’s revenue options.

“We needed to have jumped on this window already, as it has been proven on the international market that the crop is lucrative, so to legalize this crop will be very vital for Malawi.” says Boniface Kadzamila, a member of parliament

Industrial hemp can offer much to the country’s economy, it is reported that an acre with 2,500 plants can fetch up to $60,000 in the USA, in states where hemp has been legalized. On average an acre of 2,500 tobacco plants fetches around $5,000 in Malawi.

A South African-based Canadian investor Graham MacKintosh of Green Quest Farmerceuticals believes Malawi has the climatic conditions to grow the crop and shouldn’t miss out on the economic benefits it will reap out from it, as currently the market is “booming”.

“This crop has Cannabidiol oil, which is in high demand and it is estimated that in the next three years the CBD oil we extract from the crop is poised to grow at over 700%.” Says Mackintosh

African countries including  Zimbabwe, Morocco, Lesotho and South Africa have either legalized or considering legalizing  marijuana farming.

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