Botanican was born from a simple idea: to build a company that would leverage the burgeoning medicinal cannabis industry to deliver social and environmental impact in some of Africa’s most under-resourced regions where cannabis has been grown for thousands of years. Co-founders Joy and Oliver saw that attitudes and regulations around the world were changing regarding the medical (and recreational) use of cannabis and so in 2017 they began researching the sector and exploring options for setting up a cannabis business focussed on delivering social impact.
The Botanican Story
How it began
”Our vision is to create Africa’s first legal network of local growers and bring sustainably grown cannabis to global markets.Joy Olivier
Planting The Seed
In 2018, Joy was welcomed into the African Leadership Initiative (ALI); a network of influencers and pioneers, all passionate about delivering social impact through their work. That provided a springboard for developing Botanican into a social venture. She also spent a semester at Yale University as a World Fellow, where she worked on Botanican’s business case and pitch deck.
It was through ALI that Joy met Shiva, who offered to help establish Botanican in Lesotho – the first country on the continent to legalise medicinal cannabis. They presented the business plan to their ALI fellows and secured seed funding from some of their classmates, as well as a few other intrepid individuals.
Back in South Africa, Oliver was working on the implementation model with Joy’s father Gareth, a commercial agriculturalist. The two made regular trips to Lesotho to conduct research and investigate getting a license to grow cannabis. There, they met Shiva’s brother-in-law, Tlali Makotoko, who was instrumental in the license application process and became a core part of the team as Stakeholder Relations Director.
Building The Farm
In October 2019, thanks to Shiva and Tlali’s engagements with government ministries and other stakeholders, Botanican was awarded a licence to cultivate and export medicinal cannabis from Lesotho.
The season for outdoor cannabis in Lesotho begins in September, and as Botanican’s license was awarded in late October, the team had some catching up to do. Fortunately, Tlali and Gareth had already located an optimal site for the farm and received endorsement from the local chief and support from the local community to set up operations in their village.
”Within 3 months we built the basic infrastructure of the farm, with lots of help from the local communityGareth
WORKING WITH THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
Botanican ran training with members of the Ha Rakolo community to emphasise the importance of removing all the male cannabis plants in the area to reduce the risk of pollination of the female cannabis plants on the farm. Gareth also led training and up-skilling for Botanican employees, and other local farmers, in the practices of regenerative farming. Meanwhile, Tlali was engaging with the local community, local government, and other stakeholders about Botanican’s long-term plans.
Growing The Plants
The growing season in Lesotho runs from September (when we plant the seeds) to March (when we harvest).
2019 / 2020
Botanican’s first trial crop was cultivated from imported Spanish seeds, grown outdoors. Planting began in late November, and carried on through December. Despite multiple challenges — delays in licensing, minimal time for soil preparation, and no power for irrigation — the crop produced over 120kg of trimmed cannabis flower, with over 10% CBD content.
Botanican’s cannabis flower was processed by Verve Dynamics Lesotho into a full spectrum oil, and Botanican’s hemp leaf tea was also manufactured.
2020 / 2021
The coronavirus pandemic added an extra layer of complexity to Botanican’s development, but the team remained resilient, focussed, and nimble as they navigated the constraints of lockdowns and restrictions on trade. We were unable to plant another crop due to border closures between Lesotho and South Africa, but continued to engage with Verve Dynamics on research and development of Botanican’s formulations to include CBDA oils and capsules.
2021 / 2022
Our second crop (also 0.5Ha) was harvested in April 2022, and is now ready to be processed into Botanican’s signature CBDA products.
”We are continually learning, growing and expanding our operation, and will continue to support rural livelihoods in Lesotho, regenerate the land, and produce world-class cannabis products for healing and wellness as nature intends.Oliver Vergo
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