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Q&A with Trenton Birch, Cheeba Africa

The African Agri Council recently asked Trenton Birch, CEO and Co-Founder of Cheeba Africa, a few questions. Here's what he had to say about the current state of Cannabis and hemp production, as well as the path forward.

Trenton, can you share with us the origin story of Cheeba Africa and what motivated you to establish this academy in the first place?

Four and a half years ago, we began our mission with Cheeba to offer vital education to the Cannabis industry. My personal connection to Cannabis, influenced by my music background, has always been strong. In 2018, I fully committed to this industry. Our three-member founding team is united by our belief in the transformative power of Cannabis and hemp, both for the planet and the economy. Starting in my garage, we've since set up a comprehensive campus in Rivonia, Johannesburg, providing training across the entire spectrum.

In your experience, how critical is the role of investment in infrastructure and skills development for the expansion and sustainability of the Cannabis and hemp industries in Africa?

Investment in infrastructure and skills development plays an important role in propelling the growth and sustainability of the Cannabis and hemp industries in Africa. Building good infrastructure not only facilitates the cultivation and processing of these plants but also ensures that the products adhere to international standards. Furthermore, by investing in skills development, we empower local communities with the necessary expertise to nurture a thriving and sustainable industry, thereby creating employment opportunities and boosting economic growth. The current predicament is that investors are hesitant to invest without an established supply chain. However, an established supply chain cannot materialize without investment, creating a chicken-and-egg situation. Infrastructure is the cornerstone of industrialization, so significant investment in the sector is imperative to jumpstart it.

Considering the current state of the Cannabis and hemp industries in Africa, what specific skills do you believe are essential for professionals entering this field, and how can these skills propel the industry forward?

Many perceive the Cannabis and hemp industries primarily as agricultural sectors, emphasizing cultivation skills while neglecting other areas. While agriculture is the foundational step in the value chain, it's vital to acknowledge the myriad application opportunities these plants present. Consequently, we must train individuals to operate across diverse industries.

Whether it's instructing on construction with hempcrete, extracting cellulose for eco-friendly materials, or harnessing Cannabis for medicinal applications, the field is vast, spanning numerous sectors. We believe that a holistic understanding of the entire supply chain is essential. This involves assisting individuals in identifying their role within it and equipping them with the skills to navigate and contribute effectively. While specialization is inevitable, cultivating a broad knowledge base among many will accelerate and fortify our industry's growth.

As the global Cannabis market continues to expand, what unique opportunities or strengths do you believe Africa possesses that could shape its role and influence in the international Cannabis and hemp industries?

The notion that medical Cannabis must be grown indoors in overcapitalized spaces is unfounded. Medical Cannabis can thrive outdoors, and I believe this represents one of our most significant opportunities. The challenge lies in the fact that big Pharma controls the narrative, setting exorbitant standards to hinder industry growth and dictate its trajectory. I'm confident in our potential to cultivate the European medical industry, but we must take the reins in shaping the narrative. It boils down to simple math. Outdoor cultivation is considerably cheaper than indoor cultivation. While the risks are elevated, the reduced capital setup costs balance out the risk. This allows us to outcompete the Northern hemisphere in terms of price.

Additionally, we have an opportunity to cultivate industrial hemp. With ample land and labor, we can play a role in producing hemp for the global market.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions or legal hurdles you've faced in promoting Cannabis and hemp education, and how is Cheeba Africa working to overcome these challenges?

This isn't a "get-rich-quick" industry. Many harbor this misconception, which sets a negative precedent for the industry and often attracts unsuitable individuals. We believe that this will eventually become one of the world's most significant industries, offering ample opportunities. However, it requires time and commitment, a fact that many overlook. This remains a challenge we continually confront, but we strive to educate that this industry demands dedication and patience.

There's also a lingering misconception that Cannabis is "evil" and a precursor to various societal problems. This notion stems from decades of misinformation. Cannabis is non-toxic, non-addictive, and has never been the cause of death for anyone in human history. A decade from now, once the industry is well-established, we'll reflect and question our past decisions, wondering how we ever allowed this plant to be illegal. This industry has the potential to play a significant role in saving our planet. It's crucial to swiftly move past the stigma and liberalize the industry urgently.

From your perspective, how will a deeper understanding and increased production of Cannabis contribute to economic growth and social development across the continent?

We mustn't focus solely on production. It's equally important to concentrate on downstream opportunities and the export market. According to Interpol, South Africa ranks as the fourth-largest exporter of illicit Cannabis globally. We must transition this to a legal framework, which will positively impact our economy. While a local market is essential, I believe the real economic growth potential lies in maximizing our exports. We possess the legacy and credibility; all we need is a conducive legal environment to proceed.

The more profound our knowledge, the faster we'll progress. We can ramp up our production swiftly, but a supportive marketplace is essential.

Trenton will be a speaker at the African Agri Investment Indaba. To register click here:


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