Based in Lesotho, Medigrow (in partnership with Canadian Supreme Cannabis) has invested €17.4 million at its site near the capital Maseru and is building a heliport to transport its “green gold” more quickly and safely, says its chief operating officer, Relebohile Liphoto.
A significant investment, in line with the colossal prospects for the development of the global market for cannabis for medical use. Today estimated at 150 billion dollars (135 billion euros), it could reach 272 billion dollars (248 billion euros) by 2028, according to Barclays Bank’s calculations.
Canna-kingdom since the 16th century
The small African country is called “the Kingdom of Heaven”: it is the only one in the world whose entire land is at an altitude of more than 1400 meters. Also, it benefits from a significant amount of sunshine spread throughout the year and fertile soil. All these are ideal conditions for cannabis cultivation.
In the countryside, the inhabitants did not wait for legalization: for centuries, they have been growing “matekoane,” cannabis in the Sesotho language. “The first historical trace of the presence of’matekoane’ dates back to the 16th century, according to researcher Laurent Laniel of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. “The Koenas would have settled in Lesotho around 1550 by buying land for marijuana.” Even today, this crop still provides a significant part of the income of many small farmers.
Shasha owns a maize plantation in the center of the country. Between the cobs, he has been illegally cultivating cannabis for about 20 years. “Vegetables feed my family. Cannabis money is a bonus, it allows me to survive, to pay my children to go to school,” says this farmer, under cover of anonymity. He can count on many smugglers to sell his goods. “Every month, I can go up to 80 kilos across the border with South Africa. It pays between 400 and 500 euros,” he adds.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that 70% of cannabis in South Africa comes from the mountains of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” “Marijuana is the third-largest source of income,” says the UN organization.
Priority given to foreign investments
It is a massive opportunity for the country. Struck by unemployment, an AIDS epidemic that affects 23% of its population. With a severe lack of public services, Lesotho is among the poorest countries in the world: it ranks 159th out of 189 in the UN’s human development ranking.
Allowing the cultivation of therapeutic cannabis “attracts investors” to Lesotho. About ten companies are already operating in the area.
Growing this green gold has a price: an annual license of 30,000 euros to be paid to the State, renewable each year. This amount, which is considerable for the country’s companies in light of Lesotho’s fragile economy, has so far allowed foreign companies, particularly Canadian and American, to dominate the market.
On the other hand, local farmers are largely excluded. Mothiba Thamae, 38, has been growing apples, peaches and grapes on her 7.5 hectares for over 20 years. He too would have liked to take advantage of this manna. “We were thinking about getting into cannabis when it was legalized. But the license is far too expensive for us. It was hoped that the government would allow small Basotho farmers (the local ethnic group) to grow them legally. Unfortunately, no.”