South African plays a vital and dominating role in the African economy, but lately things have not been going so well. The near-collapse of the electricity grid, politicians backing Putin and rampant corruption has stymied growth. For many the light at the end of the tunnel is not that of a new vision but that of an oncoming train.
The falling South African currency does mean that foreign investors get more bang for their buck than expected though, and with new programmes developing around cannabis education, it looks like there is a new wave of thinking and skills that can be put to the test. So, there are people making a difference and they are not taking things lying down.
One of the people leading these new achievements is Trenton Birch, founder and CEO of Cheeba Africa, a multi-pronged company that includes an academy focused on education. The Cheeba Academy’s online educational seminars are focused on educating and preparing people for a career in cannabis.
We picked his brain about where things are going
Who is Cheeba, what are their aims and who is your client base?
The holding company is Cheeba. The academy part is aimed at people wanting to do higher education or short courses to bolster their career. Our training is geared towards B2B and government contracts. South Africa has a large population that does not have access to education, and we aim to fill that void. We also have a social club that allows our students access to how the clubs work and practical training. With the German clubs on the verge of coming online, we want to prepare our students to know how things work so they can employ their skills anywhere. Cheeba Cannabis TV is our edutainment channel on You Tube where we run webinars and other creative content. In essence we are an educational company that specialises in cannabis. We don’t use plastic, our edibles are vegan, and hemp is our weapon to change the world. We are aggressively pursuing a mandate of positive change and education is key to that. So, it’s more than just a course, we are pushing an agenda of wide spectrum education.
Who attends your courses?
It is a wide range of people. Some people have sponsors, some pay their own way. We recently trained 15 government officials. In our twelve-week course we’ve had age groups varying from 18 to 78, believe it or not. Our market is very diverse in terms of age, race and sex. We are aiming to produce change makers and positive citizens. We hope that the students that come through our matrix are inspired to go into the world and carry a new message.
You are also involved in a project where you are making bricks from hemp to build houses.
We have been developing quite a lot of hemp content because of its power. Hemp spans across multiple industries and will play a major role in future. Hempcrete is an easy entry point for a new emerging industry because it is easy to make. All you use is the stalk that you put through a hammer mill and then mix it with lime and water. The chemical reaction between the lime and the hemp creates hempcrete which is a solid building material that can be utilised for low-cost housing of which there is a huge shortage in South Africa. It’s fire-retardant, it’s breathable, it’s mould resistant, so it’s an incredible product to use in a place like Africa. We are partnering on this accredited course with Afrimat Hemp and our initial focus is on farmers who are growers.
Can you give us a bit of an update on what is happening in South Africa. The industry seemed to launch like a rocket and then things came to a screeching halt. Is this changing and who is bringing about change?
It’s been very slow and disjointed and stuck in bureaucracy, but things are starting to move again. This is being driven to a large extent from the provinces rather than the national government. The provinces understand that they have a legacy and that they need to bring this industry online. There has also been some drive from the top down, but there seems to be a slight disconnect in the middle. I can confidently say that there is a serious, serious spotlight from government on this industry at the moment. There is a lot of government bashing going on and that’s just not our philosophy. We build tables, not walls. We have been quite vocal in what we expect from our government and have organised some protest to draw their attention to our needs. This industry has a huge potential for our economy. We have a huge legacy when it comes to cannabis. We have been exporting for decades so we have the experience and the credibility, and this industry need to benefit our people. Mostly cannabis is there for medicine and to get people high. For us there is a third factor: We need to feed our people, so the stakes for us is a lot higher.
I have a statement that I would like to make and I would like you to comment on this statement. “The attempt to grow medical cannabis according to EU standards indoors in South Africa makes absolutely no financial sense”.
At the moment Colombia is exporting medical cannabis, that is grown outdoors, into Europe and Australia. This cannabis is being grown at $0.06 US cents per gram as opposed to the more than $1 US that it costs to grow inside. We have to grow cannabis outdoors as much as possible. The risk is higher, but the quality can be just as good. The quality is possible and we are being dictated to by the international market because we cannot trade locally. In the end we will win though. We will grow outdoor and we will prove that the quality is what is needed for medicine and in the end the Europeans and North Americans will end up buying from us because they cannot compete on price.