The dawn of cannabis economy

MASERU – Medigrow Lesotho (Pty) Ltd, a federally licensed producer of cannabis in Lesotho, is poised to become one of the largest producers of high quality contaminant free medical cannabis oil for a global distribution to the benefit of the local community and the country.
Being the first country in Africa to regulate medical cannabis has already put Lesotho on the map for international investors and the 2008 Drugs of Abuse Act, a little known law that has set the stage for the Medicinal Marijuana industry in Lesotho while the ideal climate, friendly investment environment, and ample water, power and skilled workforce make Lesotho an attractive location for large-scale cannabis production.
According to Medigrow Lesotho (PTY) Ltd’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Andre Bothma, the company was granted a licence in April 2017.

He anticipates getting business in place by July and the livelihoods of the community of Ha Marakabei are due for improvement from the ground-breaking project producing medical cannabis.
“The project, currently at vegetation and construction stage, has over 75 employees who are mainly women drawn from the surrounding villages and is anticipated to increase to over 3,000 in the next 24 months. There are 66 land owners engaged. Certain skills will be imported while majority will be locally acquired,” explained Mr Bothma.

Lesotho has also regularised creation of an enabling environment for players prepared to invest in the first-of-its-kind sector in the country and Medigrow Lesotho (Pty) Ltd is one of the holders of the comprehensive Lesotho licenses, which focus on manufacturing of intermediate and final medical cannabis products for export to international markets.
At Medigrow, the project based at Ha Marakabei, and still at vegetation and construction stage cannabis plants are kept alive for five years to make baby plants or seedlings in incubators tracked on a see-to-sell basis.

The seedlings, according to the Medigrow’s Master Grower Mr. Cornel Van Der Watt, are stacked in propagated boxes for clone cutting prior to transplanting and taking into account that everything is sterile to avoid contamination by applying pest control methods such as planting coriander among others.

“A lot of people need to be trained for this facility. We are training nine National University of Lesotho (NUL) and Agriculture College students on the succession plan under the Master Grower Cornell Van Der Watt to develop their skill as they need to be adept in the planting and processing. We will also be drawing skills from the US, Europe, and Canada,” revealed Mr. Bothma, adding that the project has had a number of investors including the Pension Fund of Lesotho and Toronto-based Supreme Cannabis. Up-to-date, an estimated M150 million has already been spent.

When describing part of the production process, Mr Bothma said high-sodium light was used for the mother plants in place of the sun while a milder form of light is used for baby plants to regulate the environment for the flowering of the plants since the factor makes it possible to harvest more than once and additionally promoting the vegetation of the plants.

On a social responsibility note, Mr. Bothma said there was a need for the upkeep of hygiene through proper sanitation within the vicinity of the factory; therefore, the community will benefit from supply and building of 100 pit latrines erected at homes that did not have adequate sanitation.

According to the President of Medigrow, Mr. Francois Fereirra, the research conducted back in 1992 revealed that more than 500 different chemicals that are contained in cannabis offer a panacea for patients suffering from different medical conditions ranging from epileptic seizures, killing of certain cancer cells, treating of mental illnesses, reducing nausea and pain among others as it helps the body use its own fighting mechanisms.

It is therefore highly anticipated that there will be a provision for medical cannabis products to be also made available to local patients.
“The same research has established that the cannabis plant produces substances called cannabinoids that can interfere with the human endo-cannabinoid system since once consumed the external cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) found in medical marijuana interact with the human body’s internal endo-cannabinoid system to cause the desired medicinal effects of relieving various conditions through suppression,” said Mr. Fereirra.
While there are already local and international investors, Mr. Bothma explained that the doors will open for Basotho to own majority shares in the project and around 46% of local participation is due to open between July and August this year. Lena

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