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Zimbabwe Farmers Swap Corn for Hemp Farming

The Zimbabwe Agricultural Marketing Authority is acknowledging the pros and cons of switching from traditional crops like corn, millet, and sorghum to hemp.

By
Benjamin M. Adams

Farmers in Zimbabwe are pivoting from the country’s traditional staple crops like corn to a new lucrative crop—hemp production. Leaders in the country, however, are more worried about any disruptions to food security locally than the potential economic boon hemp will likely bring to the country.

Agriculture contributes about 18% to Zimbabwe’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and maize or corn is the country’s staple crop and accounts for a substantial proportion of the lion’s share of fertilizers that are used, the Zimbabwe Food and Agriculture Organization reports. Corn crops are followed by millet and sorghum, in terms of prevalence.

The country also adopted a unique hemp program compared to other countries. In February 2023, Zimbabwe increased the THC limit for industrial hemp from 0.3% to 1%, making significant changes for the African country’s hemp industry. That changes everything, as even 1% THC is enough to allow for products with low psychoactive effects. International companies have taken note and are utilizing growth through Zimbabwean hemp.

The rapid changes in Zimbabwe’s economy is promising but it also creates a few new concerns. ZimEye reports that the country’s hemp industry is governed by the country’s Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA), and the shift into hemp production signals a new era for Zimbabwe’s economy, which has historically been rooted in food production. 

However, this pivot towards industrial hemp cultivation raised concerns over the potential negative impacts on the nation’s food security, challenging Zimbabwe’s agricultural legacy: The 1975 UN World Book records highlighted Zimbabwe—then called Rhodesia—as having the fastest-growing crop economy.

International interest in Zimbabwean hemp is increasing. Zimbabwe has exported over 8,000 tons of hemp to countries such as Poland, Switzerland, and Germany. Plantiqua Hemp, a Poland-based company, for instance, to enhance the quality and marketability of Zimbabwean hemp.

This makes AMA agribusiness director Jonathan Mukuruba optimistic about this new sector that’s growing in strength. “The future of industrial hemp in Zimbabwe looks very promising… with a growing interest in the sector, Zimbabwe is on track to emerge as a regional leader in industrial hemp production,” Mukuruba said.

Zimbabwe’s poverty rate hit nearly 40% in 2019, which is why food security is crucial in any decision for local leaders. “Poverty” is defined in the country as people who make less than $2.15 per day.

 “The challenge lies in balancing the cultivation of crops for industrial purposes with the imperative to ensure food security,” stated Dr. Frank Magama, CEO of Kutsaga Research Station. “As we explore the potential of hemp, we must also consider our longstanding tradition of food production and the critical importance of maintaining food security.”

Kutsaga Research Station is conducting research to identify hemp varieties suitable for Zimbabwe. 

Zimbabwe’s Shifting Economy and Hemp

That’s changing quickly in the African country as nearly all forms of cannabis were illegal prior to changes made in 2018. 

In 2018, Zimbabwe became the second nation in Africa to legalize medical cannabis and cannabis production for medical and scientific purposes. Since then, Zimbabwe officials registered over sixty entities in the hemp production, trade, and research sectors since the market took off in 2018.  In 2019, Zimbabwe abolished its ban on cannabis cultivation, which set the stage for the country’s farmers to begin cultivating industrial hemp to export. That same year, the country issued the first license to a medical cannabis company to begin cultivation.

In May 2022, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa commissioned a $27 million medical cannabis farm and processing plant to be run by Swiss Bioceuticals Limited in West Province, Zimbabwe.

The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe said on July 26, 2022 that it would begin accepting applicants from cannabis and hemp producers, manufacturers, importers, exporters, and retail pharmacists, in a seismic shift away from tobacco.

Higher THC caps make the country’s hemp unique.

Zimbabwe Independent reported that the THC level increase makes significant changes for CBD manufacturers, who will now be able to produce the entourage effect combined with other cannabinoids. 

The amended bill, called the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, 2002 is proposing the amendment of section 155 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”) to remove industrial hemp from the list of dangerous drugs.

“By the insertion of the following definition,” the bill reads, “‘Industrial hemp’ means the plant cannabis sativa L and any part of that plant, including the seed thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts and salts of isomers, whether growing or not with a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than one per centum on a dry weight basis.”

With looser restrictions on hemp farming, the plant could replace maize or corn eventually as the country’s next staple crop.

Benjamin M. Adams

Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.

View Comments

  • It’s a shame to replace Food Production with Drug Production, BUT Cannabis is such a damned good plant that you can (and should) get both from the same harvest.
    There is absolutely no reason why a Cannabis crop/harvest can’t be used to harvest both CBD (or THC) as well as edible seed!!!
    This has YET to be realised anywhere in the world on an industrial scale, but bloody well should be to get maximum usage from the very limited (& shrinking) amount of arable land this finite planet has.
    In relation to harvests aimed at CBD production essentially the whole biomass is extracted anyway, so there’s no issue with quality as long as the seeds are thoroughly removed first.
    In relation to harvests aimed at THC it does essentially exclude the possibility of a quality flower harvest, but if the harvest is used for extraction (i.e. for edibles & concentrates) then again as long as the seeds are removed thoroughly first there is no contamination issue.
    The spent/waste material, as with ALL Cannabis harvests, can alos of course be used as a greenhouse gas free biofuel.
    These renewable and sustainable concepts can not only be done, they should be done!

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