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Where’s ‘Malawi Gold’ in Malawi’s Cannabis Strategy? The Short and Stupid Answer? Nowhere!

Brett Hilton Barber; Cannabiz Africa; South African Journalist

By Cannabiz Africa Publisher Brett Hilton-Barber


Ask any afficiniado in the World of Weed to name his, her or its top African brands, and Malawi Gold will certainly be up there.  African old-timers will remember how it came neatly packaged in dried mealie leaves, “the Malawi cob”, smuggled throughout southern Africa by migrant Malawian workers during the sixties and seventies. And from there its reputation grew.


So why is this iconic cannabis brand completely missing from Malawi’s cannabis strategy?


Firstly, credit must be given to Malawi for embracing the potential of cannabis in the legalization of hemp, particularly given the country’s dependence on tobacco. Tobacco revenue has been on a decade-long downward spiral, and hemp is clearly the most viable alternative. 

But in the country’s cannabis reform programme, how can Blantyre be blinded by these obvious economic headlines, based on World Bank statistics.

  • Legal annual forex earnings from tobacco:  US$165 million 
  • Illegal cannabis sales: roughly US$210 million (70 000kg a year at US$3 000/kg)


Why isn’t Malawi building its cannabis framework on its existing thriving recreational cannabis export industry and incorporating this into the current hemp model?



The immediate beneficiaries would be the hundreds of small-scale underground cannabis farmers who, according to the World Bank, receive a pittance of the profits of the cannabis value chain, most of the proceeds being pocketed by organized crime.

Isn’t Malawi missing the biggest trick in its high-power marijuana arsenal? The Malawi Gold brand. 


Point of fact: Malawi Gold: Sativa, 13% THC, earthy and unusually energizing


(See Leafly revue here:


Few other countries in the world have such good brand association with recreational cannabis. Given the wave of international legalization underway, several industry commentators have pointed to the fact that :


  • Africa is renowned internationally for its authentic recreational cannabis;
  • African landraces like Malawi Gold or Durban Poison should be regarded as national assets within indigenous knowledge frameworks;
  • African governments should embrace these realities and develop home-grown cannabis frameworks that meet international and domestic consumer needs rather than multinational budget targets;
  • Malawi Gold is a workable African brand to market internationally


The problem is that African cannabis regulators fail to understand the cannabis plant as a whole.  (Editor’s note: yeah, show me anybody who really does know the whole plant given the astounding pace of cannabis research and new insights emerging around the world right now). 


World Bank thumbs up for Malawi as a cannabis producer – problem is its all illegal

A fascinating insight into the Malawian cannabis industry is a 2011 World Bank report on money-laundering and the underground economy in certain African countries. It notes the importance of the illegal Malawi cannabis market and acknowledges the brand power of “Malawi Gold”. 



Hey, that’s not a bad brand endorsement! Malawi Gold as verified by the World Bank! (See original report here)

According to the World Bank: “Malawi is renowned for growing the best and finest Cannabis sativa (Indian hemp) in the world. Locally known as “chamba,” cannabis is cultivated in remote parts of central and north Malawi.14 Most of the growers cultivate small fields that are almost inaccessible by road, far up remote mountain hills, hidden in bushes, or intercropped with other field crops such as cassava, maize, or sugarcane. Cannabis has long been a common crop in Africa (box 3.6), and geographic conditions in Malawi are well suited for the cultivation of cannabis; it does not require additional farming inputs, which many other Malawi cash crops do. Prices for cannabis are considerably higher than for other tobacco products (appendix B, table AB.2).” 


Heaven hemp us all


The World Bank report, bearing in mind that it was compiled in 2011 – long before marijuana became mainstream – continues:

“The majority of this “Malawi Gold” is produced for the export market. It leaves the country through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, to South Africa and to overseas markets. It is also increasingly exported to neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. There is a growing demand for Malawi cannabis in the informal settlements of Kenya’s large cities (Namu 2010). One “cob”16 of pure, smokable marijuana is worth US$1.97 on the street in Kenya, of which about US$0.32 is paid to the original farmer (see appendix B, table AB.2). 

Growing, dealing, and possessing cannabis is a punishable offense in Malawi. The antidrug policy of the Malawi Police Service involves burning the cannabis harvest, destroying the fields, and arresting cannabis traffickers (box 3.7). Seizures of cannabis vary widely from year to year but increased steadily to an average of over 70,000 kilograms a year over the last 10 years (see appendix B, table AB.1). The antidrug policies are hindered by corrupt practices within the police forces. 

Little effort is made to gain intelligence about the organizations behind the trade in cannabis within Malawi and across its borders. The fact that both Malawians and forUS14eigners have been arrested and convicted for drug trafficking suggests that transnational networks may be involved (ISS 2010). “


In short, Blantyre, you have white monopoly capitalism’s (WMC) blessing to go for broke for weed, so why this post-colonial coyness?

The fact that Malawi exports raw tobacco and imports all its cigarettes is a travesty in itself. Malawian hemp pioneers Invegrow have worked with the government to model hemp around beneficiation, so that the country can be a net exporter of hemp products rather than pure biomass. The idea is to export finished hemp products, which is a far better deal than the current tobacco model. But the, what’s the problem with exporting finished, branded adult-use cannabis products as well?

According to a World Bank report it Malawi Gold is among “the best and finest” marijuana strains in the world,[4]generally regarded as one of the most potent psychoactive pure African sativas. The popularity of this variety has led to such a profound increase in marijuana tourism and economic profit in Malawi that Malawi Gold is listed as one of the three “Big C’s” in Malawian exports: chambo (Tilapia fish), chombe (tea), and chamba (cannabis).[5]

“While most cannabis farmers cultivate it on a small scale (less than 1 hectare), there are larger commercial cultivators, as well. Cannabis growers in Malawi are mostly poor smallholder farmers. Whole rural communities are often engaged in the cultivation of the plants and processing the harvest. The villages use black magic to protect themselves and their fields. As one individual interviewed by John-Allan Namu (2010) said, “All I need is someone to give me some magic and no one will touch my fields.”15 

Most growers sell their produce from their field or homes to professional cannabis traffickers. Only a small minority of the growers take the crop to the market themselves. The cargo is hidden in cars or large trucks or transported in bags through public trans- portation to destinations in or outside Malawi. Police roadblocks and border controls need to be circumvented. According to a Malawian trucker who shared his experience with the authors on condition of anonymity, bribing of police or customs officials is common. According to this trucker, this could cost between MWK 150,000 (US$996) and MWK 200,000 (US$1,300), depending on the amount of cannabis involved. “.


According to Wikipedia:

Illegal trade in chamba amounts to an estimated 0.2% of Malawi’s GDP or K1.4 billion.[4] The majority of the product is not used locally since it is primarily grown for an export market.[4] Integration in the global market has resulted to unfair trade therefore Malawian growers are getting underpaid.[4] Malawi farmers receive only about a fifth of the price for which it is being sold in foreign consumer markets.[4] It does however, fetch more money than Malawis largest export, tobacco.[10] Most growers do not sell it directly to the market themselves, but instead to national or international traffickers.[10]


The solution is simple at the end of the day, and takes the pressure off everybody.

Africa, let’s free ourselves from colonial mindsets; let’s claim ownership of our indigenous knowledge and historical authenticity; let’s just legalize cannabis and regulate it appropriately. After all, it’s only a plant.

One Response

  1. It is a shame that they will be getting seeds that is not Malawi landrace and growing that crap Hybridising everything,,, SHOCKING !!!!! luckily I have kept those genetics safe for future personal use.

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