Zimbabwe's Industrial Hemp Project Ahead of Schedule

8 December 2019

Zimbabwe's industrial hemp which was planted just over two months ago is growing ahead of anticipated schedule as the climatic conditions in the country are different from Europe where the seed was bred.

The pioneering hemp currently being grown by Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust for study purposes at Harare Central Prison was supposed to take four months to harvest but will now take three months.

In September, Zimbabwe decriminalised the farming of industrial hemp for industrial purposes, although it must be done after seeking explicit ministerial permission.

In an interview with The Herald at the site which is now a high security area, Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust Research and Development head Katy Percival said the day length differences seed source region and Zimbabwe are contributing to this unexpected outcome.

"All the cultivars we have grown we have received from Europe where there is an average of 17 hours day length and here we have an average of 13 and half hours of day length. The plants have initiated flowering a lot earlier and this means they will produce seed earlier," she said.

A cultivar is an agricultural variety or strain originating under strict scientific monitoring, it is planted to be studied for data collection in most cases.

The early setting of seeds means the crop will only be used for seed purposes due to a lack of adequate height.

"The crops started developing its flowers a month earlier which is why we haven't had the height and why it can only be grown for seed. We expect the cultivars here to get to a final height of 1,5 metres which is perfect for a seed crop. But if you want to grow industrial hemp for fibre and other uses it has to grow up to three metres or more," said Ms Percival.

Although there is more observation needed, the trust believes the conditions here are conducive for large scale industrial hemp farming.

"We have been seeing good signs, already we are seeing differences between the five cultivars we have tried. There are two whose germination has proven not to be good under these conditions and three which have shown immense potential.

We need to collect more data before we can effectively say this is the most conducive cultivars we should have in the country," said Ms Percival.

There has been confusion on whether or not industrial hemp is the as marijuana which is abused as a psychoactive antidepressant by some.

Industrial hemp -canabis sativa - does not have properties (THC) which bring the "high" chased by those smoking marijuana, so it does not alter mood and behaviour even after consumption.

It is considered a versatile plant with more than 100 uses with commercial potential, these include paper production, beauty care oils and fishing nets from the fibre.

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