Zimbabwe: Zim's New Cannabis Law Opens Doors for Big Business

(File photo).
1 October 2020

Recently, the Government gazetted Statutory Instrument 218 of 2020 [CAP. 18:24 Agriculture Marketing Authority (Industrial Hemp) Regulations, 2020 that regularised the growing, processing and supply of industrial hemp (cannabis) by farmers in Zimbabwe for industrial purposes.

In this report, Sifelani Tsiko (ST), Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor speaks to Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust (ZIHT) founder and chief executive officer Dr Zorodzai Maroveke (ZM) about the new regulations and how they could help the country to unlock the great economic potential of cannabis.

ST: You have been described as the "most daring, tenacious and influential woman" in the fight for the cannabis growing space in Zimbabwe since 2015. How do you feel about the lobby and advocacy journey you have travelled until the recent gazetting of the industrial hemp regulations?

ZM: I am truly humbled by that description of myself, however, I feel a bit worn out to even celebrate the recent gazetting of SI 218, which is a huge milestone by the way. My lobby work since 2015, through the organisations I led have been intensive since 2017. We have successfully lobbied two successive administrations and this entailed repeating and explaining myself over and over again.

It has been a journey filled with interesting lessons considering that Zimbabwe has a very unique socio-economic and political terrain, hence navigating it as a young woman who comes off as "daring, tenacious and influential" as you put it, can be a bitter-sweet experience. I am happy because we are now close to the vision of "Hemp for all". I only want to see inclusion and fair opportunity for all Zimbabweans to participate in this sector.

The good news is that I haven't done it alone. I have received great support from my own team, the private sector and the Government too and that's the major reason I cannot give up now.

ST: Dr Maroveke, you are also seen as a major driving force behind legalisation of cannabis in Zimbabwe. You were quite vocal and you compelled the Government to consider the growing of industrial hemp in the country. Tell us more about the importance of engaging Government in a positive and constructive way on controversial matters.

ZM: Thank you so much for this question because it's probably what sets my work apart from ganja or mbanje activists or perhaps previous cannabis lobbyists. As you rightfully put it, this was and still is a very controversial space and approach was going to be key.

I quote you: "compelled them to consider", it means you give the other party room to think about it. It's very important for my generation and others to understand that Government is not an animal. It's run by people like you and me, therefore, there is always room to share perspective, negotiate and discuss these issues without a confrontational, disrespectful and undiplomatic attitude.

It's important to always understand why Government takes a certain position on such matters before you make assumptions and impose your views and opinions. Positive engagement and dialogue only means you sincerely want progress. You might not agree, but that can be peaceful too. Let me fail to be heard after I have tried to be heard than assume that I won't be heard.

ST: What is your general comment about the recent move by Government to gazette the industrial hemp regulations? What does this mean to Zimbabwe as a country and to Africa as a whole?

ZM: Firstly, the move was long overdue, but its progressive and in line with the global momentum on industrial hemp legal inclusion. It also allows hemp to have its own stage as it had been overshadowed by medicinal cannabis.

Secondly, putting in a law that regulates the cultivation of industrial hemp gives clarity, not only to Zimbabweans who may be interested in the farming or processing, but also investors who may be looking into investing in the value addition of this crop.

Clearly, you can also see the Government's effort to support and facilitate for the development of this sector by removing most of the legal barriers that were hindering this opportunity. Lastly, it means Africa must watch out for Zimbabwe. We have potential to be one of the major players on the continent due to our strong pedigree in agriculture and tobacco production.

I believe Zimbabwe can be very competitive with continual support in policy development from Government, good markets, technical expertise, funding and of course, a corruption-free space.

ST: To what extent do you think the new regulations will be important in driving the growth of the industrial hemp sector?

ZM: The new regulations will be key as they set the parameters and distinguish between marijuana for medicinal purposes which is very complex and industrial hemp. Many people can participate and this may see the production kicking off on a large scale in a year or so.

However, I think this piece of legislation is good, but not perfect as there are a few things that will need panel beating to allow massive growth of the sector like the (psychoactive cannabis) tetrahydrocannabinol or THC threshold. We as the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust are still lobbying to revise that, but it's still work in progress.

ST: What is the potential that Zimbabwe could generate in revenue yearly after the country started production of industrial hemp at a commercial level?

ZM: I estimate at least 25 percent of the current tobacco output in the first two to three years of serious production, but it all boils down to critical mass -- how many farmers, breeders and investors sign up and are successful till the export stage.

There are many learning curves ahead, the hemp farmer might not be immune to the general problem of the corporate-dominated agribusiness model. Commercialisation of industrial hemp that can have a significant contribution to the economy begins now, but we might be far from throwing around big numbers.

However, if there is enough support from Government to incentivise both investors and farmers, we might see the economic benefit sooner. Conservative market researchers have said the global market for hemp is projected to reach US$26 billion by 2025.

ST: Experts say a well regulated medical cannabis or industrial hemp industry in Africa has potential to stimulate economic growth and create jobs across the entire continent. What is your comment on this? How many jobs can the sector create in Zimbabwe, for example?

ZM: The number of jobs that can be created from the two industries combined would be colossal. Remember that hemp has more value chains compared to tobacco and cotton. The primary production stage has its own skill requirements and so does the secondary stage with many ancillary businesses. The new sector has jobs to be created in agriculture, engineering, IT, administration, accounting, legal, marketing manufacturing, logistics, pharmaceuticals, food science, construction, education, fundraising and so on. The list is endless, therefore, it would be hard to put a figure just as yet.

ST: Lesotho was the first African nation to legalise medical cannabis in 2017, followed by South Africa's functional legalisation of adult use in 2018. In April 2018, Zimbabwe became the third African country to legalise medical cannabis. What are the current estimates of the value of Africa's industrial hemp production? How does it compare with the rest of the world?

ZM: According to the reports by NFD (New Frontier Data) of 2018 on Cannabis in Africa, they estimate that global demand value for all cannabis (industrial, medicinal and illicit) was US$344,4 billion in 2018. Africa accounts for 11 percent of the world's market value at US$37,3 billion. Hemp alone would constitute about US$9 billion, where they say Zimbabwe's cannabis market value both illegal and legal is currently US$200 million.

This is likely to change locally with the new regulations and also on the continent as we expect new entries in Africa, with Kenya currently considering legalising after Uganda in East Africa.

ST: International demand also offers a strong opportunity to unlock the potential value of Africa's legally produced cannabis. What do you think Zimbabwe and other African countries need to do to tap into this industry which some researchers estimate could be worth up to US$7,1 billion annually by 2023?

ZM: Africa will have to fight to compete among itself, South America and Asia as these players will be targeting the same market. As a continent, we will have to leverage on our competitive advantages, good soils, land, low cost of production etc to produce good quality and low cost cannabis products. The biggest challenge to tap into these markets will be meeting the standards and to satisfy the requirements for export that would have been set by the buyers. We will have to invest in training, education and awareness and technical support to farmers to avoid disappointment.

ST: What are some of Africa's most sizeable cannabis markets for both medical cannabis and industrial hemp?

ZM: Apparently, there are 15 sizeable cannabis markets in Africa that include Nigeria (US$15,3 billion), Egypt (US$333 million), Ethiopia (US$9.8 billion), Angola (US$1.7 billion), Morocco (US$3.5 billion), to mention but a few.

ST: Industrial hemp growing can support several of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Tell us briefly about some of the goals.

ZM: I think of the 17 SDGs, there are three specific ones that can play a direct role in African countries. Regulated cannabis may also contribute to progress on the other SDGs by spurring developments in industry, innovation and infrastructure.

SDG2 says: "End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture". Hemp is a super plant based protein which is rich in vitamins, amino acids and other essential nutrients, which go lacking in the diets of many of our people.

It also promotes sustainable Agriculture. On SDG3 -- "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages" -- cannabis is used to treat seizures, other neurological disorders, along with cancer, chronic pain, HIV and AIDS, anxiety, glaucoma and a myriad of other conditions of varying severity.

The proliferation of cannabis reform around the world was increased by acceptance of the plants' medicinal properties and applications. When localised in communities, cannabis based treatments will not require expensive medical infrastructure and could address poor medical delivery coverage.

SDG8 -- "Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all". Both medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp industries can create jobs for skilled and unskilled workers alike, and could potentially bring in FDI and new technologies. However, I believe in the mid to long-term, our Government must carefully structure regulations around foreign ownership and participation, especially in the hemp sector and create industries of higher value-added products instead of shipping raw materials.

ST: You always complain about how the media confuses mbanje and industrial hemp. Can you comment on this?

ZM: Perhaps its high time we all collectively came up with a Shona name for industrial hemp. Malawi is working on not calling hemp "Chamba." I understand that Shona can be limiting since cannabis is just mbanje. But we need deliberate efforts to find a way to distinguish the two. Your article is in English, but your headline will caption mbanje. Just write cannabis or hemp. Let Kwayedza write about "Mbanje dzinodhaka nedzisinga dhaki."

We have a very hyped youth and the animal called social media. The headlines are always misleading, it creates an unnecessary buzz. For instance, I received numerous calls about social media posts that were advising people that they could get a mbanje licence for US$200 now and not have to deal with police harassment.

So, I think the onus is on mainstream media to get the right message out there. We all know mbanje, marijuana, ganja have a notorious connotation. I am looking forward to a creative new name for hemp from the media fraternity.

ST: Industrial hemp has a variety of uses that include ropes, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation, biofuels and hemp jewellery. What are your hopes for the future of cannabis growing and industrial hemp production in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole?

ZM: It's my fervent hope that the five years of my youth that I have invested my time and energy to bring down the first impediment, the legal barrier, for this new opportunity for Zimbabweans will not go to waste. I hope to see the racial and gender dynamics in the medicinal cannabis sector change over time and that every ordinary Zimbabwean who so wishes may be able to participate in the industrial hemp sector freely and cultivate it like any other crop to contribute to the gradual tobacco transition.

I wish to wear export quality hemp shoes, where the hemp has been cultivated by women, designed by my fellow youth and made in Zimbabwe. I hope Zimbabwe can excel in world class hemp production and be the giant it was in tobacco production. I pray that Africa will be the floor of production not only for raw cannabis, but for most of the innovative hemp products we hear about.

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