Zimbabwe ‘s government approved plans for the country’s first cannabis farm and production plant in May. The country made it legal to produce marijuana for medicinal and scientific uses last year and companies can now secure licenses to do so. Zimbabwe’s health ministry will grant growers’ licences valid for up to five years, but with limited and strict cultivation conditions.
The Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust (ZIHT) has become the first to plant authorised hemp in the country; sowing six varieties of industrial cannabis. Unlike marijuana, hemp contains a lower count of psychoactive substance THC and is adaptable to grow in most climates.
AFP reported that the Trust planted the crop in a prison yard in Harare out of “convenience” as the property already has tight security.
“This project is the first of its kind in the history of our country,” Agriculture Minister Perence Shiri told guests at the launch at Harare Central Prison.
“This pilot project will provide essential knowledge or information for the successful production of this crop. The benefits that will be derived from the production of industrial hemp are enormous and varied,” he said.
The Trust is the first company to receive a license to produce hemp in the country with its Founder, Dentist Zorodzai Maroveke telling AFP that she discovered the opportunities in cannabis production when she bought a dress made from hemp fabric while studying in China.
Hemp is one of the fastest growing plants and can be refined into a variety of commercial items, including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed. Additionally, when oxidized, hemp oil from the seeds becomes solid and can be used in the manufacture of oil-based paints, creams as a moisturizing agent, for cooking, and in plastics.
According to New Frontier Data, a market research firm focused on the cannabis industry the total sales for hemp-based products in the US were about $1.1 billion in 2018 and are expected to more than double by 2022.
However, despite its profitability there are challenges in growing industrial hemp. The seeds are quite expensive, and the farming is labour intensive because it has not yet been mechanised.
CNN reports that while large-scale farms use machinery for growing traditional crops like wheat and corn, specific machinery for planting and harvesting hemp is still lacking. Hemp farms therefore rely on manual labour for planting, harvesting and removing weeds.