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Zimbabwe Govt Asks Tobacco Research Body to Look at Viability of Large-Scale Cannabis Production

Zimbabwe Govt Asks Tobacco Research Body to Look at Viability of Large-Scale Cannabis Production

Zimbabwe’s hopes of capitalizing on cannabis have not yielded the results that Harare hoped for. Africa’s largest tobacco producer is concerned that cigarette consumption is dropping world-wide and has now called on the sector’s research experts to look at how cannabis can become a meaningful alternative export commodity.

Columbus Mavhunga, Voice of America

31 May 2024 at 06:00:00

This report from the Voice of America, published on 30 May 2024.


Harare, Zimbabwe — Faced with the growth of anti-smoking campaigns and a drop in cigarette use worldwide, Zimbabwe, Africa's largest tobacco producer, has asked its tobacco research body to look into the viability of large-scale cannabis production.


Kumbirai Mateva, a plant breeder at Zimbabwe's Tobacco Research Board, says the agency's decision to research cannabis resulted from the World Health Organization's efforts to discourage tobacco use and the government's directive to explore agricultural alternatives.


"We see this as an opportunity to lead in the agricultural innovation and sustainability, ensuring that Zimbabwe remains at the forefront of progressive farming practices," he said. "We are excited about the prospect on the horizon as we draft a variety of protocol for a new hemp variety, which we expect to launch in the near future."


Munyaradzi Chedondo, formerly a tobacco farmer, got a 5-year license to be one of the cannabis growers at his farm about 40 kilometers north of Harare.


"Medicinal cannabis, it's just good business," he said. "On a comparative level with tobacco, it pays better, and then you need to invest, because there's a lot of infrastructure involved. There's just a lot of money, seeds you import. On fertilizers, you need to do it organically, so there are costs. And returns are there."


Mike Querl was a fruits and fish farmer who is now growing medicinal cannabis on 44 hectares near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city.


"Cannabis look[s] good due to our weather pattern in Zimbabwe and the price for the crop," he said. "We have grown it for the past 2-3 years; it has done really well. It will be a huge business for Zimbabwe, due to the fact that we can grow all year round. And we can grow three times; three harvests out of a year in [same] field. We [are] very excited about it. Smoking cigarettes with nicotine and tars is very unhealthy; we have CBD cigarettes that are being produced now, which are much healthier. It will help our people with smoking less."


U.N. agencies are urging farmers to move away from tobacco given the health hazards, such as lung cancer caused by smoking. Because of those risks, demand for tobacco has dropped in the last 25 years, according to the WHO -- though it remains popular in Zimbabwe.


Clemence Rusenga is a senior research associate at the School for Policy Studies of the University of Bristol in England. He is studying Zimbabwe's cannabis policy.


He said Zimbabwe's tobacco farmers can transition to cannabis farming -- but there are a number of issues that need to be addressed. He said the current cost for a 5-year cannabis license -- $50,000 -- is prohibitive.


"As a result, many people, especially those who do not have a lot of resources, they are not able to afford this," he said. 


"The industry has become exclusionary, meaning that even those who [were] producing cannabis before illegally, it makes it difficult for them to transition into the legal market. Number two, I think it is the costly production setup that cannabis farmers are facing in Zimbabwe. You need a lot of money because of the requirements, which I think some of which could be reduced if the regulators work with the stakeholders, so it is very costly as a result, very few cannabis farmers are producing currently."


There is also the issue that recreational marijuana remains illegal in Zimbabwe.


Rusenga said that Zimbabwe needs to take advantage of the growing cannabis industry globally to allow its farmers to thrive.

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