This cannabis country report Malawi explains the cannabis industry in the country, how to get a license and who will get a license.
In May 2020 the Republic of Malawi became the eighth African country to legalise the growing of medicinal cannabis, known as chamba. Ironically enough, with the exception of Rwanda, all sub-Saharan African countries that have legalised the grow are ex-British colonies.
Malawi has the world’s most tobacco dependent economy but due to world-wide anti-tobacco legislation, the income from this export has been dropping steadily. During the 2020 season, Malawi’s tobacco output fell by 31.3%. At the same time Malawian cannabis, especially the dried in a banana-leaf cultivar Malawi Gold, has achieved legendary status and is accepted to be the best strand coming out of Africa.
Ironically enough the new legislation does not allow for Malawi Gold to be grown as part of the medical cannabis programme.
Whereas tobacco is part of the colonial legacy of the country, the growing of cannabis is very much part of the traditional character of Malawi. Cannabis was widely used by the entire population as an intoxicant and as medicine in treating conditions like anthrax, dysentery, fevers, malaria, chicken pox or snakebites. When British colonists arrived in Malawi in the mid-19th century, they found that cannabis use was already widespread with people consuming it for medicinal and recreational purposes. Livingstone observed local people cultivating and using it in 1865. Malawi cannabis is also woven into many of the myths and legends of the country.
The economic potential of the fast-growing global medicinal and industrial cannabis industry has been the main driver of the law change in Malawi. In 2019, the World Bank said Malawi “remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite making significant economic and structural reforms to sustain economic growth”. The national poverty rate was more than 50% in 2016. Notwithstanding that, the bill to legalise medicinal and industrial production faced huge opposition from social and religious conservatives in the country.
After three decades of one-party rule, the country held multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections in 1994 under a provisional constitution that came into full effect the following year. Population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, corruption, and the scourge of HIV/AIDS pose major problems for Malawi.
The country is landlocked, and Lake Malawi is the country’s most prominent physical feature. It contains more fish species than any other lake on earth.
The economy of Malawi is predominantly agriculture based. Agriculture accounts for 30 percent of the gross domestic product and generates over 80 percent of national export earnings. The agriculture sector employs 64 percent of the country’s workforce and contributes to food and nutrition security. Some of the challenges the sector faces include vulnerability to weather shocks, poor management of land, water and soils, low adoption of agricultural technologies, low access to finance and farm inputs, low mechanisation and technical labour skills, a limited irrigation system and weak linkages to markets. Malawi has a narrow industrial base and weak intersectoral linkages.
Agricultural expertise is abundant, the minimum wage is 0.65 euro per day and unemployment is almost 8%. Median age is 16, literacy rate is 62%.
Criticism from local tobacco farmers and illegal cannabis growers who want to go legit circles around three issues. The general feeling is that the US$10 000 licensing fee is way too high for the average farmer to afford. Secondly the farmers are claiming that the legal aspects of forming the co-operatives that the government is encouraging is laborious, overtly bureaucratic and time consuming. There is also disaffection because only two strands of cannabis are allowed to be grown, none of which are local. This means that the seeds’ resistance to domestic problems are less.
Before we get into how to get a cannabis license in Malawi, a fun fact for you: Malawi has requested Mike Tyson to be their cannabis ambassador. It is not yet known if he accepted their offer.
The controlling authority
The Cannabis Regulatory Authority (CRA) was established to regulate the cannabis industry. The Authority is mandated to license all activities across the cannabis value chain such as cultivation, processing, distribution, storage, exportation, importation, research, laboratory tests, transportation and medical use.
How to go about it
Licenses are not issued to individuals but to companies or cooperatives with an off taker. If you do not yet have a registered Malawian organisation, you will need one. Malawi Investment and Trade Centre oversees this process. Theoretically speaking license applications aim for a 21 day turn around to assess applications. However, the period can vary between 21 days and 3 months. If unsuccessful, you may be given 10 working days to provide further information. If successful, pay the applicable license fee. A license will be issued with 12 months validity. If you reapply to remain operational after the 12-month mark, the same fee applies again. The renewal application must be filed at least three months prior to the expiry of the license. The CRA are currently evaluating whether license holders seeking renewal will be able to get 3-or-5-year renewals after the first 12 months. Nothing has been gazetted on this as yet.
Local farmers are encouraged to create cooperatives and partner with larger processing companies. Growers issued licenses will only be able to grow product from certified seeds.
The CRA has issued 86 licenses to 35 companies. They turned down six applications.
So who what are the requirements, the milestones and the fees for a licensing a cannabis operation in Malawi? Download the full guide here and get valuable insights and expert advice!
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