Monday, March 03, 2008

Cannabis set to build new farm wealth

THE Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is piloting a multi-billion-rand agri-business project that could encourage Eastern Cape farmers to grow hemp and flax for the textile industry.

The project is aimed at boosting economic activity. Hemp and flax are used for various purposes, including textiles and food.

“The main objective is to exploit these plants to extract long and short fibre,” said CSIR fibres and textile manager Abisha Tembo.

He said a recent presentation on this matter was well received by the provincial economic development forum and that a pilot project to grow flax would be established by the Cacadu district municipality before the end of the year.

“Other than the two Industrial development zones in Port Elizabeth and East London, the automotive industry, and, to a smaller extent, sheep and angora goat farming, there is no other flagship economic project.

“Growing and processing flax and hemp will provide a new industry that is viable and has the potential to be worth billions, if farmers get the required interventions in terms of government subsidies,” he said.

Trials the institute had conducted in Qamata, Libode, Addo and East London had shown that the province had the right climate to cultivate the crops.

Although hemp is illegal in South Africa as it is a member of the cannabis sativa family, various organisations, including the CSIR and the Agriculture Research Council, are lobbying government to change the legislation.

CSIR natural plant fibre centre manager Sunshine Blouw said: “The advantage of the two plants is that flax is grown in winter and hemp in summer. Farmers can grow both in different seasons without having to acquire different technologies for production and processing as both plants use the same technology.”

The CSIR, Blouw said, would help set up a processing and production facility in an area accessible to all farmers. “Ideally, the farmers should own it through a co-operative.”

Notwithstanding China‘s dominance in textiles and clothing, Blouw said markets were available.

“In 2004, South Africa imported R100-million worth of flax and R75-million worth of hemp. It would not make business sense to import if you can buy locally.” - The Herald

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