Rwanda is in talks with four European and American companies about growing and processing cannabis for export to meet rising pharmaceutical demand for the narcotic, although its consumption is still banned in the country.
The move could help boost Rwandan state revenues, hit by the effects of COVID-19, officials say.
The central African nation joins a host of countries that have legalized, or are considering legalizing, cannabis to some degree, as attitudes towards the drug slowly change and investments in its medical benefits grow.
“We have been in talks with four different companies so we will start with those applications,” Rwanda Development Board (RDB) chief executive Clare Akamanzi said, adding the firms were from Europe and the United States.
She declined to give the firms’ names or say which sectors they normally operate in.
She said the government had realised that the country could potentially make $10 million per hectare, which is much higher than earnings from traditional exports like coffee and tea on the same size of land.
Like most other countries, Rwandan government revenues have been slashed as measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic batters key sectors like tourism and investment.
In a statement on Tuesday RDB said the government expected “the sector to generate significant export revenues and employment opportunities in high value agriculture and agro-processing.”
Consumption of cannabis and other narcotics is banned in Rwanda and is punishable by a jail term of up to two years, while drug dealers face between 20 years to life in prison.
The statement said all cannabis produced would be strictly for export and that the domestic consumption ban would remain despite the new policy allowing the plant’s production.
“The consumption of cannabis is an offence and it will continue to be an offence,” Rwanda’s chief justice Faustin Ntezilyayo said in a news conference on Wednesday.