An influential trade body has warned that South Africa’s decision to ramp up commercial cannabis and hemp production could jeopardize the country’s food safety and supply.

Agri SA was responding to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, in which he pledged to build up South Africa’s medical cannabis industry. He also said the government would open up and regulate the commercial use of hemp products, in order to provide opportunities for small-scale farmers.

Agri SA, a 116-year-old federation of agricultural organizations, warned that Ramaphosa’s government must consider the entire value chain when designing policy for the farming of both cannabis and hemp.

The industry body said that farmers may decide to switch to farming cannabis due to the cash incentives on offer, which could “negatively impact” the farming of commodities needed for food security. It also warned that these farmers might not have enough water or fertilizer to ensure a safe, successful crop.

Agri SA also pointed to crime rates in rural areas and said all crops must be kept secure, while urging the government to take appropriate measures to prevent cannabis production falling into illegal use.

Lesotho was the first African country to legalize medical cannabis production and it already has a burgeoning industry. Zimbabwe issued its first cannabis licence in March 2019, Zambia legalized medical cannabis in December 2019, and Uganda drafted a framework to govern its nascent cannabis industry last month.

South Africa decriminalized marijuana for personal use in September 2018. Low-level home cultivation was permitted, but the commercial cultivation and sale of cannabis remained illegal. CBD wellness product sales were legalized on a 12-month trial basis in May 2019, and now it is moving towards a full medical cannabis industry.

Companies producing CBD products in South Africa have responded with excitement and relief to Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address.

AfriPlex, which opened the country’s first cannabis testing lab last year, said the announcement was long overdue.

Marijuana activist Myrtle Clarke said: “We were very excited to hear two things – commercialisation and small farms – in the same sentence. So, we need the arrests to stop, the police to stop acting with impunity and going into people’s houses even after the privacy judgment.”

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