Set up in 2022 and outfitted with versatile equipment, the TUT/CSIR Cannabis Research Hub operates on a cost recovery basis. It provides services in extraction, formulation and product development. The hub is also involved in training and capacity building all along the medical cannabis and hemp value chains, and more broadly in herbal products.
While visiting the hub with senior staff members from the University, Dr Vathiswa Papu-Zamxaka, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Engagement, said the collaboration with the CSIR assists the University to “leverage on expertise to support businesses and entrepreneurs to produce good quality, safe products”.
Prof David Katerere, Pharmaceutical Science Professor and TUT’s Research and Development Platform holder in Pharmaceutical and Biotech Advancement in Africa (PBA2), who spearheads the hub, said people from industry and entrepreneurs regularly visit the hub for business opportunities.
“South Africa currently focuses primarily on cultivation and to some extent, extraction,” explained Prof Katerere. “However, the barriers to entry in the case of an entire value chain, are generally high. These include capital investment, low access to skills and extraction and manufacturing technology. The CRH aims to de-risk entrepreneurs and SMEs by plugging some of these gaps as identified by the National Cannabis Master Plan,” Prof Katerere added.
A first of its kind on the African continent, the University invested in an industrial size Supercritical Fluid extractor which utilizes carbon dioxide. This versatile instrument is used for extraction of herbs and cannabis as well as the production of oils, fragrances and spices.
Prof Katerere added that they often receive requests from other African countries running cannabis-related and small businesses who want to grow their enterprises using the hub. However, the processes of acquiring import and export permits are complex. There is therefore a need for state and regional agencies to collaborate and facilitate the movement of medical cannabis and hemp raw materials to and from the hub.
The CRH works in alignment with the National Cannabis Master Plan, which provides a broad framework for development and growth. In the State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Ramaphosa suggested that the cannabis industry will lead to 130,000 jobs. The CRH is positioned to build technical and technological capacity in the SADC region and allow for value adding within the region and therefore accelerating the economic benefits from this sunrise sector.