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Hemp Experts: Kickstart Industry by Growing Hemp to Build Houses, Make Nutritious Foodstuff for People and Animals And Rehabilitate Toxic Mines

Hemp Experts: Kickstart Industry by Growing Hemp to Build Houses, Make Nutritious Foodstuff for People and Animals And Rehabilitate Toxic Mines

Brett Hilton Barber

5 May 2022, 22:00:00

Big players Afriplex and Labat are making moves into the hemp industry

Food and beverages are ‘the lowest-hanging fruit in the hemp value chain

Growing hemp to build houses and to develop hemp as nutritional foodstuff for humans and animals were the two “lowest hanging-fruit” to get the industry going.  There are also medium-term opportunities in growing hemp for textiles but the simplest way for the hemp industry to get off the ground was to focus on the food and beverage and construction sectors.

This emerged during a virtual panel discussion on hemp opportunities hosted by Cheeba Craft TV on 3 May 2022, where challenges facing the fledgling industry were also raised, (link to other new hemp story) in particular the 0,2% THC limit for hemp and the amount of red tape required to grow the plant.

The Department of Agriculture (DALRRD) last year identified growing hemp as a source of food was the most cost-effective way of bringing small scale farmers into the hemp value chain. However, the Department of Health, made the ludicrous claim in Parliament last year that cannabis had no nutritional value, causing confusion in the cannabis policy-making environment.

Big players Afriplex and Labat are making moves into the hemp industry,

Nonetheless the private sector is pushing ahead with Afriplex and the CRI taking the lead by developing hemp-based poultry feed, which they have proved is more nutritious than standard poultry feed. Afrilplex has identified four areas it wants to focus on in creating hemp products: food and beverages, construction, textiles and packaging.

Afriplex has set up a dedicated hemp research team at its Paarl facility and is looking to expand fairly rapidly into the hemp industry. Its strategy is to create private sector partnerships among hemp end users, contract growing to small-scale farmers and handle the processing in-between.

CEO Danie Nel says “Afriplex’s approach is to start creating market demand for hemp to ensure it can approach farmers with specific end products in mind. There are now a sufficient number of hemp permit applications to warrant the establishment of long-term contracts with farmers”.

Afriplex is also in negotiation with an international company to set up a decertification plant in South Africa.

JSE-listed Labat Africa is also moving into the hemp space. It’s CEO Brian van Rooyen said he believed the biggest opportunities ahead lay in textiles. It’s entered into a partnership with the CSIR to process hemp at its Coega facility in the Eastern Cape.

“It is really about the CSIR wanting to commercialise medicinal cannabis and getting some traction in the industrial side of hemp production and processing. The partnership is collaborative and serves to benefit both parties,” he said.

The agreement makes provision for the use, upgrade and expansion of the Coega hemp-processing facility, the acceleration of hemp biomass and waste into energy applications in KwaZulu-Natal as well as for the beneficiation of biocomposites and biopolymers that will be applied in the automotive, textile, construction and packaging industries.

“For the latter, the conversion of natural fibre to biopolymer is where the value-add is. We have several confirmed private sector and state-owned enterprises as clients. One of these is the largest textile manufacturing company in South Africa, which will be using the material in their production rollout,” said Van Rooyen.

Van Rooyen says that there are currently no large-scale industrial hemp-processing operations in Africa: “The producers around do not have the technological capability and the financial means to scale business to the required global levels. South Africa’s [hemp industry] has remained a cottage industry due to historical regulatory issues, social stigma, minimal technological development and the absence of a reliable supply chain for industrial application.”

‘Start with the end-user first’

Dr Moses Mlangeni, an academic specializing in hemp research, told the Cheeba panel discussion that identifying the end uses that hemp was to be grown for was crucial in seed selection.

“It all depends on the seed. There are all sorts of end products we can make out of hemp but what seeds are we using to build which industries. We need to get our seeds right and then make them easily accessible and then all sorts of options open up; you can grow for construction material or you can grow for textiles” he said.

“Instead of putting pressure on the private sector to get things going, Government could create demand, for instance by specifying that hemp should be used in textiles, or paper, or building material purchased by the State”.

M Ayanda Bam, who’s been lobbying for regulatory change, is also pushing for Government to become a consumer of hemp products, takes the same view. “If Government wants to get the industry going it can help by creating demand” he told Cannabiz Africa.“Imagine if in 10 years-time Government stipulated that all SANDF uniforms must be made from hemp. That would give the industry a direction to work towards and be the foundation of a hemp textile industry.

Bam, lead of the Private Sector Working Group (PSWG) of the National Cannabis Master Plan (NCMP), told the audience he believed a big opportunity right now was in food and beverages, particularly the processing of oils into wellness and nuitrocuetical products.

Use hemp to clean the earth

“Mine dump rehabilitation is also big. We have 6 000 abandoned mines in SA, many of which are toxic”. He said hemp, as a heavy-metal extractor, could be grown on mine dumps to detoxify them and then the plant used to make hempcrete for RDP housing.

The hemp textile space was quite fragmented at the moment, said Bam but he saw a short-term opportunity in non-woven textiles which could eventually be upscaled into making composites – products for the automotive or aviation industries, for example.

“But right now the focus should be on hurds and making products for the construction industry. Government could do this through the Expanded Works Programme to rapidly industrialize cannabis by linking the construction industry to small-scale hemp farmers to create a whole new value chain”

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