Obert Chifamba, The Herald, Zimbabwe
1 November 2023 at 15:00:00
Stakeholder meeting reveals that only 10 of 59 licensed cultivators are producing and selling and that red tape is to blame
This report first published by The Herald on 1 November 2023.
Across the breadth and width of Zimbabwe, the situation on production and distribution of cannabis is equally crooked and almost dysfunctional at the moment.
In fact, these two situations are directly linked -- starting with the fact that the country is one of the producers of the best cannabis globally, yet the few producers that are managing to produce the crop commercially are either stuck with it or selling it to only God knows where, thanks to a number of challenges ranging from lack of information on markets to policy.
Just recently, stakeholders held a meeting in Harare to deliberate on operational issues making their business hellish and the first disappointing piece of news they shared was that out of the 59 licenced producers of the crop, only 10 were producing and selling.
Essentially, this meant that the outstanding 49 were either not producing or producing and channelling the product elsewhere other than the formal market where records would be left.
It is stirring to note that the Zimbabwean situation is replicated in South Africa where the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are 900 000 producers of cannabis and in the last two years, 300 000 tonnes of the crop were reportedly exported illegally.
A paltry 2 500 tonnes is reported to have been the only quantity exported through legal channels, which effectively indicates that there is something probably from the policy side or the regulatory authorities making it difficult for them to use the legal route.
In some cases, citizens end up using unorthodox ways of doing business because there is either too much paper work, red tape or expenditure on the legal route, yet they will be expecting to make money and attend to pressing socio-economic issues.
Back home, stakeholders in the industry are all in agreement that there are too many challenges to surmount before one can eventually sell produce and enjoy the revenue.
When they have harvested the crop and are done preparing it for the market, samples are sent to the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) for testing to check if it meets the required standards.
It takes 20 days for MCAZ to revert with their findings after which South Africa will be the next destination for further testing before it is returned and depending on the outcome, the produce is either exported or rejected.
The challenge here is that international markets reportedly do not accept certification from MCAZ hence the need to take the South African option, which adds on to the delays that stakeholders are complaining of.
Eventually, the selling process will take close to two months or so to be completed, which does not make business sense for the producers given that they are business people who need to produce, sell and start all over again or invest to expand business.
It is critical for the Government to come in and help remove the hurdles that litter the production as well as marketing process.
These innumerable challenges have presented middlemen with opportunities to come in and buy the cannabis from farmers and later sell to only God knows where.
Some producers end up dumping the official procedures and deal with unscrupulous buyers that do not require certification of produce, which is bleeding the economy.
Cannabis production offers plenty of opportunities for economic growth and social development, which many countries, including Zimbabwe, are failing to tap into courtesy of the challenges articulated above.
It may also become necessary for the Government to legalise all the cannabis strains -- medicinal, industrial and recreational and make sure they are all traded legally but come up with a way of regulating the goings-on on the side of the recreational category.
It is a fact that most governments the world over, consider recreational cannabis illegal because of the way it has been put to use and would therefore not legalise its production and trading.
In a way, this creates a corridor for illicit trade for the product that becomes attractive to those authorised to produce and trade in it.
This partial legalising of cannabis paves the way for the creation of a separate market from that one used by the legalised. In most cases the illegal markets capture the market at the expense of the licenced because there are no stringent requirements to the activities.
The licenced producers in Zimbabwe are currently finding the going very tough, thanks to the punitive costs involved in the crop's production.
They are required to pay fees of US$50 000 to enable them to operate for a period of five years.
Overall, it is, therefore, not cheap for a budding producer to raise that amount from nothing, which means not many citizens will be able to participate in cannabis production.
This shuts the door on potential producers and prejudice the country of potential revenue from the crop. Smaller fees would have enabled the citizens to use the Government's 2018 decision to legalise cannabis production and uplift their livelihoods and the country's economy at the same time.
The country's cannabis growing laws are still very young and therefore open to different interpretations and the bureaucracy that deals with it is still young and learning, which means that everybody is finding their way through all the new rules.
It is crucial to have periodic reviews of how the situation is turning out while educating citizens on the new way of doing business and how it is beneficial to the nation. It seems this has not been done and a lot of grey areas are crowding the vision of most people.