With medicinal cannabis industry in Malawi still very much in its infancy stage, the country has turned to former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson to be the country’s official ambassador for the crop with the hope of attracting investors to this young industry.
In a letter written earlier this month but made public last week, the minister of agriculture Lobin Lowe requested “Iron Mike” to take up this role.
Gracian Lungu, the spokesperson to the ministry of agriculture told Quartz, “We want to market this industry outside Malawi and we thought that aligning ourselves to Mike Tyson could greatly help us with our industrial and medicinal cannabis considering that progress has been very slow in marketing our industry internationally.”
The southern African country which is internationally known for its recreational cannabis strain ‘Malawi gold’, legalized the growing and processing of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes last year.
According to a Prohibition Partners report, Africa’s legal marijuana industry could be worth as much as $7.1 billion by 2023. This projection focused on the legal and regulated cannabis industry in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Nigeria, Morocco, Malawi, Ghana, eSwatini, and Zambia.
While Tyson is yet to respond to the request, Lungu hopes that he will, “rope in some investors and even potential buyers.”
Tyson has been a long time advocate for cannabis
The former heavyweight champion is a long-time cannabis advocate and he is developing his own brands of cannabis. The United States Cannabis Association-USCA is facilitating the deal with Tyson.
In an interview with Quartz, Happy Sakah, head of marketing, communication, and corporate strategy for USCA in Malawi said “We believe that Malawian farmers are going to learn a lot from Mike Tyson because he has been in this business since 2016.”
However, the proposed partnership with Tyson has angered a civil society group in the country, the Centre for Public Accountability. In statement to Quartz, the group said “The CPA is failing to comprehend why Malawi would want to have a convinced rapist as its brand ambassador, more especially at this time when efforts to curb violence against women are part of the government agenda.”
Similarly, a Member of Parliament, Owen Chomanika criticized the move due to Tyson’s previous crimes. But Sakah dismissed these concerns, saying Tyson served his punishment and has been welcomed back into public life.
The economic interest for Malawi in cannabis
Tobacco remains Malawi’s major export earner accounting for 60% of forex but the global decline in its use has impacted the country’s economy. This global decline is due to a shift away from cigarette smoking bolstered by large scale anti-smoking campaigns and public health measures.
During the 2020 season, Malawi’s tobacco output fell by 31.3%, resulting in a 26.4% decline in the country’s overall tobacco revenues. Thus, in the long run industrial marijuana could supplement tobacco and expand the country’s revenue options. Malawi hopes for the same boost that other countries with favorable cannabis regulations predict.
The US estimates that the legal cannabis industry currently supports 250,000 jobs. Such a development could present a huge opportunity for countries like Malawi where agricultural commodities are the economic backbone of the country.
After Malawi’s parliament passed the legalization of cannabis farming, the Cannabis Regulatory Authority-CRA was set up to oversee this new national venture. It has issued about 70 licenses to companies and cooperatives. Licensing fees range from $100 to $1000 annually for cultivating, selling, storing, and distributing industrial or medicinal cannabis.
“As a country we haven’t really invested in a structured market like we did with tobacco, so at the moment we are only relying on the markets that companies and cooperatives are set to bring,” said Boniface Kadzamila, board chairperson for CRA.
This is why it is especially important for Malawi to position itself globally as an emerging source of cannabis and why it’s seeking out a high profile ambassador such as Mike Tyson.
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