And the plant that will be grown in six rural areas of the province to help to bring prosperity to the region and the country is cannabis, also known as hemp or dagga.
The project has the backing of nine government departments and the first local briefing session about the crop will be held in Camperdown on Thursday to an invited group of small-scale rural farmers.
“KZN farmers are struggling to grow maize, tomatoes, cucumbers and other crops and we will help them with their applications for the necessary permits to enter the cannabis industry,” said Durban-based Krithi Thaver, a founder member of Canna Culture, which has merged with a new organisation, the Cannabis Developing Council of South Africa.
Soweto scientist Dr Thandeka Kunune, whose House of Hemp was the first private company to be awarded an exclusive permit from the departments of agriculture and health in 2010 to legally cultivate and process hemp in South Africa at the Dube TradePort, is also part of the council and will be attending Thursday’s briefing.
“We are using her experience, research and connections to move this industry forward,” said Thaver, who gave up his banking job to concentrate on his passion for developing the cannabis industry.
The meeting and the move to help farmers get into the cannabis-growing industry comes against a background of big developments in the medical marijuana field.
Earlier this year, the government took its first steps in legalising the manufacture of marijuana for medicinal uses after political parties agreed to work together on the Medical Innovations Bill to ensure terminally ill, or patients with chronic pain, were able to use it to treat their symptoms.
Cultivating cannabis for either medicinal and other industrial purposes would be strictly controlled, Thaver said.
The move to develop a booming cannabis-farming sector was not connected to the recreational use of cannabis, he said.
“The big challenge is to break the stigma and ignorance about the plant. But this is the plant that will save the South African economy, create untold jobs, benefit exports and improve our exchange control situation,” he said.
While the healing benefits of medicinal cannabis would help sick patients, the production of hemp for industrial purposes was “massive” as there were about 20 000 different products that could be made from the plant.
“Nothing is wasted in hemp,” he said.
“It grows in drought conditions, does not need pesticides, is very strong and is the easiest crop to grow. It is a miracle crop. It can be used in textiles, the construction industry and in animal feed.”
It can also be used in the paper industry - while a tree takes eight years to grow, a hemp plant is ready to harvest in six months.
The government departments behind the new industry are the departments of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, economic development, environmental affairs, justice, rural development and land reform, science and technology, small business development, trade and industry, and health.
Small-scale farmers who are being helped to get into the industry are in the Melmoth area, KwaDakuza, Mandini, Winterton, Underberg and on the South Coast.
“The application process involved 11 forms to fill in: it is a very intense process, which is why we are helping them,” Thaver said.
Their 2-hectare fenced-off farms must be nowhere near schools or religious institutions, he added.
The farmers will have to import the seeds from either Europe or China. If they are unable to afford the costs themselves, the Cannabis Developing Council of South Africa will help them get private-sector funding.