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Lesotho: A tiny African kingdom wants to export its cannabis to the world

Janice Kew and Loni Prinsloo (Bloomberg)

Seattle Times

Thursday 19 Dec 2019

Kekeletso Lekaota spends her work days nurturing rows of cannabis plants for harvest. Pruning a few yellowed leaves from stems with thick, flowering heads, she says the job requires a soft touch and delicate hands.

It’s a crop Lekaota had no experience with 18 months ago, when she saw an advertisement for a grower in her local newspaper. Now, the 27-year-old trains others how to cultivate the plants for MG Health, a supplier of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products, at a farm and oil extraction facility in Lesotho, the tiny, mountainous kingdom bordered on all sides by South Africa.

“I didn’t know what cannabis was — it was only when I was applying for this job that I realized it’s dagga,” Lekaota said, using a word for weed derived from the local Khoisan languages, as she readied the greenhouses for their required 12 hours of darkness.

Marijuana has been widely cultivated across Lesotho, one of Africa’s poorest countries, since time immemorial — long used as medicine by the native Basotho people. It’s easier to grow and more lucrative than other crops such as maize and sugar cane, and the nation’s abundant water and fertile soil provide ideal conditions. Many families rely on the extra income from selling illicitly to recreational drug users, to cover basic costs such as sending their children to school.

The Lesotho government is now trying to spur development of legal plantations supplying the burgeoning global medical cannabis industry to broaden its tax base — currently dominated by exports of diamonds, water and wool — and create jobs. About two-thirds of the country’s 2.2 million people live in rural villages, and many survive off subsistence farming. Cannabis is a critical piece of the government’s agricultural strategy, which it hopes will help fund basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity and water pipes.

In 2018, Lesotho became the first African nation to issue licenses for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Foreign investors including Canadian companies Supreme Cannabis, Canopy Growth and Aphria have since poured tens of millions of dollars into a handful of facilities, drawn by the low cost of production.




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