The Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust is using Harare Remand Prison as a test site for hemp research. It expects its first crop in December according to The Herald Newspaper in Harare. Feature writer Leroy Dzenga says it’s taken a lot of hard work to get the Zimbabwe government to accept the value of hemp, but now efforts are about to flower.
Had someone suggested hemp would be legally grown in Zimbabwe a few decades back, it would have sounded like a wild joke. The country has over the years shown characteristics that suggest it may be of a conservative nature.
This is why proponents of the crop like Dr Zorodzai Maroveke (28) of the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust (ZIHT) had to spend four years knocking on doors trying to sell the idea to key decision makers.
It has not been easy. The uptake has been gradual and continues to be handled delicately. Some ideas have to be treated with sensitivities regardless of the economic potential, especially in a setting where debate occurs in the absence of nuance.
But what is it they say about wills and ways? Dr Maroveke soldiered on and finally got a licence to set up a research field where she and ZIHT can study on the plant.
At the beginning of September, she sowed what became the pioneering plant.
Hemp in Zimbabwe has drawn different opinions from different quarters, but the Government is optimistic. They have since given policy commitment.
At the planting ceremony, Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri said by supporting the growing of hemp, Government is taking a leaf from progressive economies.
“We have big economies such as China who are the world’s leading producer of the crop. As a progressive nation, we also have taken a deliberate and conscious decision to venture into industrial hemp production given the benefits that we can derive,” said Minister Shiri.
How has the journey been so far? As if it is repaying the leap of faith by the proponents and the confidence by Government, a recent visit to the field at Harare Remand Prison showed progress. In fact, the hemp, which was planted just over two months ago, is growing ahead of schedule.
This is because the cultivars (types) being tried were nurtured in Europe, and the day lengths are significantly different from those experienced in Harare.
“All the cultivars we have grown we have received from Europe where there is an average of 17 hours of 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,” he 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 crop 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 ZIHT research and development head Katy Percival.
Although there is more observation needed, ZIHT 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 Percival.
As a result of the early seed setting, the crop will take three months, instead of the expected four months.
The first harvest is expected around the third week of December.
In September 2019, Zimbabwe decriminalised the farming of hemp for industrial purposes, although it must be done after seeking explicit ministerial permission.
There has been confusion on whether or not industrial hemp is the same as marijuana, which is abused as a psychoactive antidepressant by some.
Industrial hemp — cannabis sativa — does not have properties (THC) which brings the “high” chased by marijuana smokers, 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. By decriminalising hemp growing, (although under licence) Zimbabwe is retracing the continent’s standing on the plant from the pre-colonial days.