Where Corporate Interest Meets Community
Is Africa getting short-changed on its own resources by foreign cannabis companies?
Louisa Mojela | | Opinion
Cheap labour + cheap materials = low costs and high profit margins. It’s the equation that every business strives to master. The problem is that those profit margins often come at a cost to emerging markets that are seeking growth and investment. For the cannabis industry, it makes sense to produce products in Africa, where the growing conditions are ideal and production and labor costs are lower. But that opportunity should be matched by a certain amount of responsibility. And that’s something we know all too well at Halo Collective.
We’re a US-based company that specializes in modern cannabis extraction techniques and cannabinoid isolation. Owner of the largest grow sites in North America, Halo uses proprietary techniques and leading-edge technology to develop innovative products. And with the cannabis industry booming, the time is ripe to expand both vertically and into new markets… But we also understand the active role cannabis can play in transforming the economies of developing nations.
We acquired Bophelo Bioscience and Wellness in Lesotho in 2020. Bophelo is currently operating in a five-hectare facility – with access to an additional 200 hectares – and it will soon be the largest cultivation site in the world. The conditions are close to perfect for a cannabis business: the environment is pristine, there is plenty of water and sunshine, energy costs are low, and labor is competitively priced. All that is needed is foreign investment and the technical and business skills to maximize this opportunity for the country.
My family is from the Mafeteng district of Lesotho, where Bophelo Bioscience is situated, so I know well the struggles that Lesotho faces. About 40 percent of the country’s population live below the poverty line, with many just getting by on subsistence farming. Unemployment has left many with no choice but to leave and find work in South Africa. As a country, the challenges faced are manifold, but we continue to work towards growth and development.
Lesotho was the first country in Africa to legalize the cultivation and manufacture of medical cannabis. In fact, cannabis has been used as medicine by the local Basotho people for many years. As a result, they already have expertise in cultivating it – experience that will stand Lesotho in good stead as it enters the global cannabis market via Halo.
Halo’s commitment to taking care of and developing existing resources and the community in which we operate runs deep. Our vision is to create opportunities for generations of local people, establishing a positive work environment where employees can earn more than the government-regulated minimum wage, thus raising their standard of living. We practice equal opportunity employment, with compensation based not only on labor laws, but on merit, qualifications, and individual abilities. As a local to Lesotho, I also see the importance of offering our employees career and training opportunities, teaching skill sets that can empower people on the ground to rise within our company, rather than bringing in outside hires.
When the acquisition of Bophelo was finalized, one of Halo’s first priorities was to pledge 10 percent of pre-tax profits to community causes in the Tsakholo (the site of operations), as well as the greater Mafeteng area. Halo does this through the Mophuthi Matsoso Development Trust, which I founded in 2010. The Trust is dedicated to rural community development for those in need, especially women and children, and aims to address poverty and build self-reliance.
The goals of Mophuthi Matsoso are threefold: to fund education, especially early learning; to empower women through projects and programs that develop skills, build capacity and help to generate cash; and to invest in agriculture to fight hunger and promote food security.
In line with these goals, Mophuthi Matsoso has upgraded several local schools from dilapidated old buildings, adding electricity, ablution facilities, staff offices, and libraries. The Trust has also built a learning center that is fully electrified and equipped with a science and mathematics lab, a computer center, sports facilities, and a library. These top-class learning facilities, along with well trained teachers, will equip local children for future careers that can further benefit the country.
Funds from the Trust have also been used to purchase farming equipment and plough community fields at no cost, and to set up a project where pigs are raised for food and for market. The badly eroded roads in the area are being upgraded so locals can more easily transport goods and reach towns, schools and clinics. And the newly-built All Saints Anglican Church will help anchor the community and provide for their spiritual needs.
It’s my belief that the success of a company must be measured by the development of the community around it – communities (women and young people in particular) cannot be left impoverished whilst companies thrive at their exclusion. Ultimately, our goal is not just to succeed in our business in Lesotho, but also to invest in the people who contribute to that success – a blueprint we hope other companies will follow.