Zimbabwe has begun harvesting its first crop of legally cultivated industrial hemp after it decriminalised cannabis in 2018 to tap into the multi-billion-dollar industry.
Last year, the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust (ZIHT) planted five varieties of European industrial cannabis on a 10-hectare plot at Harare Central Prison.
Preliminary results show that of the five varieties planted, only two performed well, with poor rains and high temperatures being blamed.
The results also showed that the crops grew and budded quicker than anticipated. ZIHT founder Dr Zorodzai Maroveke said they are now testing the varieties around the country.
“We have been harvesting the industrial hemp and so far we have sent some tests to the University of Zimbabwe to check for chemical components,” she said.
“We are now doing data collection and trials on the European varieties that we planted. We have since realised that the performance has been very poor on three of the European varieties, and only two performed really well. “The next phase now is taking the varieties to other parts of the country and study the varieties in different regions in the country.
“We are also looking forward to planting and testing indigenous seeds from places such as Binga. We recently got a nod from Government to test indigenous seeds.”
Dr Maroveke said the data being gathered would provide critical information to investors that are presently waiting in the wings.
“The trials are very important. It is a new industry, uncharted territory. There are many investors looking at value addition and the local industry. There are also partners looking at small-scale farming, so there is need for trials.
“But by the end of this year, we will be doing commercial trials,” she said.
Government has since approved 37 investors who have shown interest in producing cannabis (mbanje or dagga) for medicinal or scientific purposes.
Growers of hemp and cannabis — two different crops — get licences valid for up to five years, and have to produce the crop under strict monitoring.
British firm Eco Equity has also begun work on its US$6,3 million medicinal cannabis project.
The company plans to complete a greenhouse by the first quarter of 2020, start cultivation in the second quarter and begin exports of the product by the third quarter.
US-based business research company, Grand View Research, expects the global legal marijuana market to reach US$66,3 billion by the end of 2025.
It is believed that increased use of cannabis as a pharmaceutical product for treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, cancer and arthritis would spur demand.
However, hemp, which is from the plant species Cannabis sativa, is used for commercial and industrial products such as clothing, shoes, paper and bioplastics.