A Dutch University study estimates there are probably 40 000 small-scale cannabis farmers in this small part of Mpondoland and if local landraces were classified as industrial cannabis they would be able to get over R451 million for their stalks and leaves, and if they could legally sell their flower, their earnings could reach almost R6 billion.
How much illegal cannabis is grown in SA?
It’s difficult to know exactly for obvious reasons, but in terms of South Africa’s submission to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the highest figure ever reported was 80 000 ha under cultivation in 1994/5. SAPS’s last report (from 1994) estimated that 0,1% of South Africa’s arable land, some 227 000 ha were under illegal cannabis cultivation, mostly in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Mpumulanga and Limpopo provinces. The DEA at the time believed there was about 83 000 ha under illegal cannabis cultivation in South Africa
Well, what are the facts?
This is the task Afrostar’s Nicolas Heineman took on in helping sponsor a study done in Mpondoland, Eastern Cape, by a Dutch University to ascertain how many hectares in in one small part of that region were being used for illegal cannabis cultivation, mainly growing indigenous landraces. He says the estimates above are probably conservative as there could be as many hectares under cannabis cultivation in this small part of Mpondoland than there is licensced hemp cultivation area in Europe (32 000 ha).
His reckoning was that there were about 40 000 ha of farmed cannabis in the Upper uMzimvubu catchment area alone, with each hectare being a single small-scale farming unit.
This means that there are probably around 40 000 cannabis farmers in this area. As their plants stand in the ground today, they have no value from an industrial cannabis perspective. But if they could realise R451 million for 40 000 people and that’s not even looking at the medicinal or recreational…if you include medical or recreational, that figure goes up to R5,9 billion.
According to information garnered by Tijmen Grooten, of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, there may be even as much as 56 000 ha of land under cannabis just in that poverty-stricken, isolated rural area north of Port St Johns and near Lusikisiki where the uMzimbvubu and Thina Rivers converge.
According to his thesis ‘Harvesting Hope: Exploring the Untapped Potential of Small-Scale Cannabis Farming in South Africa’, there are between 18 719 ha and 56 157 ha in the Upper Mzimvubu catchment area are under cannabis with the average farm being one hectare in size. This means there are between 20 000 and 60 000 illegal cannabis in this part of Mpondoland alone.
These figures were revealed to Parliament on 23 May 2023 as part of a presentation made by Afrostar’s Nicolas Heinemann, in which he argued that if local landraces were classified as industrial cannabis, huge economic potential for the area could be unleashed.
He said “As that plant stands in the ground today, it has no value from an industrial cannabis perspective.. If stalks and leaves could be processed into hurd, between 112 767 and 338 301 tons could be produced by these farmers annually, realising a minimum value of around R451 million. The same plants could produce between 1 500 and 4 485 of tons of cannabis flower annually that could be used for recreational or medicinal use.