November 1, 2017
North American investor groups are becoming increasingly interested in applying for a commercial cultivation permit in Colombia. A decree in late 2015 paved the road for an active commercial licensing program, and Colombian and foreign investors alike are submitting applications to cultivate, extract, and export cannabis oil. The low cost of production, matched with the growing global demand for cannabis oil, has positioned Colombia to become a dominant player in the worldwide cannabis market.
For investors contemplating this lucrative opportunity, here are a few tips to consider as you search for suitable land:
1. Safety first
You’ve likely heard about a recent peace treaty between FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government. Even the Pope visited Colombia to help celebrate! What you likely didn’t hear is that not all guerrilla fighters agreed to surrender. Rebel groups still operate in remote areas of Colombia, and they thrive in jungle and mountain regions where there is no police or military presence. These groups survive by forcing local businesses and landowners to pay a monthly “vacuna” or vaccine to protect themselves against bodily harm, kidnapping, or death. The geographical areas under guerrilla control can fluctuate, meaning previously peaceful land can gradually become “hot” with guerrilla activity.
But don’t despair! There is plenty of excellent agricultural land far from these pockets of guerilla activity that is perfect for commercial cannabis production. In fact, most of the country is safer today than it has been during the last 50 years, thanks to government, police and military intervention. The chance of this issue becoming a problem for cannabis farm operators is very, very slim, but it would be irresponsible to ignore this peculiarity of Colombian life. The simple solution: don't buy land in remote areas of Colombia! And for extra credit, as you’re identifying potential plots of land for purchase, simply verify with locals and police that the area has been clean of guerrilla activity for the last 15 years.
2. How high are you?
In Colombia, elevation is everything. This South American country has one of the most diverse ranges of microclimates on the planet - from beaches to tropical rainforests to snow-capped mountains. Elevation determines the average day and night temperature, and thus, your growing environment. Personal experience cultivating cannabis in Colombia has taught me that an elevation of 600 meters to 1200 meters is ideal for cannabis production (approximately 2000 to 4000 ft. above sea level). Building a production site much higher will force growers to provide supplementary heat at night and on cloudy days to maintain the optimum growing environment. Selecting a site south of this point and you'll be investing considerable money into cooling equipment.
3. Proximity to a functioning airport
A lot of agricultural land is located in rural areas far from any airport, and even regional airports can spend considerable time closed due to inclement mountain weather. Cannabis exports will leave the country through Bogotá or Medellín, so operating near these cities, or near regional airports that service them, will help expedite shipping and lower transportation costs.
4. Supersize it
Be prepared to start big. Licensed producers and applicant hopefuls have announced plans to start production 10 hectares (about 1,000,000 ft2). The most efficient operators will establish greenhouses in regions where cooling and supplemental heating are not required, thus allowing massive construction to occur at relatively low costs. The global market is huge, and the greenhouses that feed this market will need to be massive as well.
5. Water, water everywhere?
There is an abundance of clean irrigation water in Colombia, and plenty of water-filtering technologies exist to adjust freshwater sources into the optimum range for cannabis cultivation. However, it’s important to be cognizant of how much water is available. If the source is a spring or well, determine how much water is there and make sure it has never run dry. Establishing operations near a river or negotiating rights to use nearby river water as backup irrigation can help mitigate the hazards of the unexpected. Remember: no water = dead plants.