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Chamba economics

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With Fanwell Kenala Bokosi:

The economics of political campaigns is about making wild claims about how, if voted into power, someone will make life better for all of us. Some of the rhetoric I have heard in the last few weeks is completely beyond belief. The good news is that these types of statements have created topics for debate in many places.

I should admit that the coming in of UTM has made the campaign towards 2019 more exciting. If this campaign was devoid of the UTM’s political choreography, the dance towards May 2019 would have been boring.

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After the one-million-jobs-in-six months declaration, Saulos Chilima has created another buzz on the Malawi political front by promising to allow people in Nkhotakota to grow industrial hemp. While I had difficulties in understanding how UTM was going to create a million jobs which I think is not viable after listening to his explanation on how this will happen, I must admit that I am rather attracted to the chamba alternative.

It is, perhaps, important to look back to recent history of Malawi’s flirtatious relationship with chamba. The last time I heard was that Malawi was experimenting with industrial hemp. Malawi’s search for chamba as an alternative to tobacco has been boosted by efforts of people like Ntchisi North Member of Parliament, Boniface Kadzamira, who spoke in Parliament of his unwavering support for the legalisation of the sale of chamba on the basis that it is a viable alternative to boosting the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

Perhaps what is important would also be to understand that the Malawi Government approved that trials for industrial hemp should be conducted in other environments following the successful industrial hemp trials at Chitedze Research Station in Lilongwe.

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These trials established that there are varieties available that have lower levels of the psychoactive substance, THC, compared to the limit set by the international community. Early this year, some sources estimated that Malawi has already invested about $10 million in the cultivation of industrial hemp, which is considered to have economic, medical, nutritional and agricultural value.

In fact, there is a British entrepreneur who was the first person in Malawi to be granted authorisation by the government to conduct trials on industrial hemp. Industrial has a great potential to replace tobacco as the new cash crop in Malawi and to see Malawians benefitting from its products at both a health and economic level.

Like any industry, the economics surrounding hemp play an important role in determining the future market shares that any hemp derived products might have. This includes the local economics for the farmers and farming communities and the international export-import trading markets. The global market for chamba consists of more than 25,000 products in nine submarkets: agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food and beverages, paper, construction materials, and personal care. Hemp can be grown as a fibre, seed, or dual-purpose crop.

Hemp fibres are used in fabrics and textiles, yarns and spun fibres, paper, carpeting, home furnishings, construction and insulation materials, auto parts and composites. It can also be used in animal bedding, material inputs, papermaking and oil absorbents. Hemp seed and oilcake are used in a range of foods and beverages (e.g., salad and cooking oil and dairy alternatives) and can be an alternative food and feed protein source.

Oil from crushed hemp seed is used in soap, shampoo, lotions, bath gels, and cosmetics. Hemp is also being used in nutritional supplements and in medicinal and therapeutic products, including pharmaceuticals.

The monetary value from hemp could be massive. In 2016 alone, it was estimated that retail sales of chamba products was nearly $700 million which is equivalent to around K511 billion. In 2017, the United States imported hemp seeds and fibres to use as inputs into further manufacturing to the tune of $67.3 million equivalent to K50 billion. In 2018, there are approximately 30 countries in Europe, Asia, and North and South America that permit farmers to grow industrial hemp.

The list of issues is wide but, in our priorities, certain areas clearly demand greater focus. The current threat of the anti-smoking lobby to the tobacco industry demands far greater attention by the political parties. The country cannot continue to remain dependent on tobacco while the rest of the world is now legalising the cultivation and use of industrial hemp.

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