WATCH | 'Swazi Gold' dagga farmers fear new SA law could crush them

Mbuso has been growing cannabis for 14 years. He lives and tends the illicit crop in Swaziland, which is now known officially as Eswatini.

Mbuso is just one of scores in this small kingdom who depend on high demand from their much larger neighbour South Africa for their potent cannabis strain known as "Swazi Gold".

But Mbuso and others are worried that a recent legal amendment in SA could choke their businesses. In September, South Africa's Constitutional Court decriminalised the use and cultivation of cannabis in private space. But the decision did not legalise its trade or distribution. Even displaying cannabis in public remains legally dubious.

Mbuso already had plans of changing crops but says he needed the full profits from one more harvest. 

Florida-based company Profile Solutions Inc has recently received a coveted 10-year licence to produce and sell hemp and medical-grade cannabis in Eswatini. But small-scale farmers like Mbuso are still being prosecuted, detained and having their crops of recreational marijuana burnt.

Mbuso and other farmers sell a gram of cannabis for about R7. 

The cannabis is then smuggled into South Africa and Mozambique where it is typically sold for about 10 times the price.

A former South African cannabis dealer, who used to trade exclusively in Swazi Gold and who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, expressed empathy for the Swazi farmers.

"They're good guys, they produce good product. They know what they're doing and they've been doing it for a long time," he said.

While subsistence farmers like Mbuso worry about their future, a few African governments are waking up to the potential of a legal cannabis industry.

A recent report by market intelligence firm Prohibition Partners has created high hopes of a sector that could be worth up to $7bn (R104bn).

Lesotho became the first country in Africa to legalise the production of marijuana for medical use last year. Zimbabwe has followed suit.

The UN reports that more than 10,000 tons of cannabis is produced in Africa every year.


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