It is an exciting time for our nation as Zimbabwe re-emerges as a major and respected competitor in agricultural markets globally. In line with the countries vision to be an upper-middle-income economy by 2030, the growth in the agricultural sector is predicted to contribute 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s GDP by 2025. 

While traditional crops such as tobacco, maize, wheat, soya beans, etc. have seen significant growth in recent years, it is the high-value export market that Zimbabwe must exploit. Already, new horticultural projects have been established to service these lucrative export markets. These include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, macadamia nuts, avocados, cut flowers to name but a few. 

The newest crop, and arguably the most lucrative, is industrial hemp. The country has a rare opportunity to take the lead in hemp production. Through progressive legislation and foresight from the Zimbabwean Government, the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp was legalised in 2020. The legislation S.I. 218 of 2020 provides Zimbabwean farmers the opportunity to participate in one of the fastest-growing agricultural markets in the world. 

A recent study shows that industrial hemp markets were valued at US$5 billion in 2020. The market is expected to grow rapidly over the next 5 years to worth over US$25 billion by 2026. With idyllic climatic conditions, low-input costs, skilled labour force and geographic positioning to international markets, Zimbabwe is ideally positioned to become a major player in industrial hemp markets in years to come. 

Industrial hemp is one of the most versatile plants on the planet. As a renewable source for raw materials, hemp can be incorporated into thousands of different products from bioplastics and textiles to health foods and pharmaceuticals. While hemp has many uses the market can be separated into two distinct market segments namely, seed/fibre and cannabinol (CBD). Hemp farming starts by choosing what kind of industrial hemp to grow. 

The approach to growing hemp for seed/fibre is different from the approach to growing hemp for cannabinol (CBD). For example, seed/fibre crops have a planting population of between 600,000 – 800,000 plants per hectare (roughly 100 plants/sqm). The plant grows tall, and the tops are harvested for seed production and the stalk for fibre. 

On the other hand, industrial hemp grown for CBD and used in wellness and pharmaceutical markets has a planting population of between 3000 – 4000 plants per hectare. The grower will harvest and dry the flowers which have the highest concentration of CBD. CBD will then be extracted from the dried material and will be used as an active ingredient in different health and wellness products. 

The global CBD market is the fastest growing market segment of industrial hemp. An increase in demand owing to an increase in consumer awareness regarding the therapeutic efficacy of CBD is driving this rapid growth.  In 2020, hemp-derived CBD markets were estimated to be valued at well over US$2 billion and are expected to be worth over US$16 billion by 2026. 

Growing industrial hemp in Zimbabwe 

While the hemp plant has been cultivated for thousands of years (many have argued that it is the world’s oldest crop) modern cultivation techniques are not quite what they used to be. There is a lot more that goes into growing hemp than sticking a seed in the ground and watching it grow. 

A farmer wanting to begin growing industrial hemp must consider numerous different factors before they begin cultivation. Some of these factors include selecting which varieties to grow and for what purpose, identifying well-aerated loam soils, choosing to grow seeds or clones, choosing an ideal planting date (November/December in Zimbabwe), and ensuring adequate infrastructure for drying. For those growing for CBD, one must also consider the implications of the 0,3 percent THC limit. 

One of Zimbabwe’s first industrial hemp growers had this to say about the limit. 

“There is a challenge that growers face with 3 percent THC limit. While it is useful to differentiate between industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis using THC limits, it can also be stifling to industrial hemp growers. We do not yet know how industrial hemp varieties will respond to Zimbabwe’s climatic conditions and acclimatization to latitudes and longitudes may have a major impact on the THC content. If these industrial hemp varieties “heat up” and test at let’s say 6 percent, ultimately that entire crop is non-compliant and must be destroyed. As a stakeholder, I believe Zimbabwe should be looking closely at Switzerland’s regulatory framework which has a 1,0 percent THC limit.”

Market prices for hemp grown for CBD range between US$30–$75per kg of biomass. Each plant will yield roughly 500 grams that can be used to source CBD, and with between 3,000 – 4,000 plants per hectare, hemp farmers could be looking to generate upwards of US$60,000 per hectare of hemp. 

There is no doubt that industrial hemp is a lucrative new industry and Zimbabwe already at the forefront of pioneering this industry regionally. As cultivation begins to take shape, downstream processing will become another major opportunity for the sector. While a lot of attention and focus has been placed on export markets, Zimbabwe stands to achieve more by providing a legal framework for the domestic utilization of CBD within our borders. The industry has the potential to generate well over US$100 million per annum.

 It will be up to the Zimbabwean government, the private sector and international partners to work closely together to build a successful new sector for Zimbabwe’s growing agricultural industry. 

Requirements

 Growing, researching or dealing in mbanje requires a permit. There are three types: general grower’s, research and breeding, and industrial hemp merchants. The application fee for the first two, and the renewal fee, is US$200 or RTGS equivalent at the prevailing auction rate. The merchant costs US$500. The application for any permit requires the following: three copies of the plan of the field being used, along with its geo-coordinates, proof of citizenship, permanent residence or exemption, and a declaration that the permit applicant is familiar with the provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Authority Act.

Forbes Danckwerts is a local industrial hemp farmer and Munyaradzi Mlambo is Agricultural Marketing Authority Communications Officer. Feedback [email protected]