George Wajackoyah, one of four Kenyan presidential candidates in the pending national elections, is proposing to legalize cannabis and raise snakes for their venom to jump start the domestic economy.
Beyond the cannabis play, snake venom is used to manufacture drugs like high blood pressure medication and is used in treatments for blood clots, heart disease and as an antidote for snake bites. On the foreign export market, venom can be sold for as much as $120 per gram. The market for this product is also growing—and expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2027.
Wajackoya is a lawyer and a member of the Roots Party which is also advocating for a four day work week. However, it is his esoteric proposals on the cannabis and venom front which is allowing him to make at least a decent showing if not capture votes that might otherwise go to the leading two candidates—a former Prime Minister and the current Deputy President. The cannabis theme alone is pulling undecided voters to his camp. Some expect him to do well enough to force a runoff.
In the meantime, the entire election is getting even more controversial with the barring of Reuben Kigame, a well-known blind gospel singer, from being a candidate at all. Beyond the presidential race, six of the top candidates vying for governorship positions are now facing unwanted scrutiny for allegedly submitting fake academic credentials to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Cannabis reform, in other words, is far from the most controversial topic in Kenyan national politics this year even though it is one of the most internationally newsworthy ones.
The Impact of Cannabis Cultivation in Kenya
Kenya, a country in East Africa bordering Uganda (now exporting high THC cannabis to Israel and Europe), is holding its presidential elections this August. There are several other proposals on the table to help the average citizen, including a $60 a month stipend for Kenyans who are unemployed.
It is primarily known for its Big Five wildlife population, annual wildebeest migrations and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tragically the country is also known for other reasons that are not so breath-taking. The country is considered a lower-middle income economy with about 16% of its population at or below the international poverty line. Beyond this, it suffers from extreme gender and other economic inequality, government corruption and severe illnesses that affect large parts of the population such as HIV, malaria, and pneumonia. Beyond this, the country suffers from a terrible lack of basic infrastructure that leaves about 19 million people (about 35% of the population) without access to clean drinking water.
Kenya is also suffering from direct fallout of the Ukraine War. The conflict has disrupted the supply of wheat, maize, fertilizer, and oil seeds to the country. Wheat prices alone have more than doubled. This may be the reason that as of early this month, the country became one of the top three countries in Africa to receive money from expats working abroad (used to pay for education as well as basic medical and household expenses).
The Worth of African Hemp
While presidential promises are often not all they are cracked up to be post-election day no matter where such contests are held, this may be especially true in Kenya. Here is why. According to U.S. federal data from the USDA, hemp prices can vary dramatically from state to state even in the U.S. For example, in Colorado, hemp sold for $4.09 a pound last year. In contrast, it went for $503 a pound in Massachusetts. That delta is for a product that has now been made legal on a national level.
International sales are equally divergent in price. High quality, indoor grown GMP hemp is a far different beast than hemp grown outdoors. Beyond this, the plants must test clean of heavy metals and pesticides—and below national and regional import countries mandates on THC percentage (between 0.02% and 0.03%).
Bottom line? Snake venom farming may prove to be more lucrative on the international market for the struggling Kenyan economy. But it is clear that cannabis reform is a global topic this year—and likely to show up in elections far from Africa.