The Sunday Mail
THE production of industrial hemp doubled to more than 40 tonnes last year, with the country exporting about five tonnes to Switzerland.
The number of players registered with the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) in the nascent sub-sector has risen to 60, from 21 in 2020.
The production and marketing of industrial hemp was legalised through promulgation of Statutory Instrument 218 of the 2020 Agricultural Marketing Authority (Industrial Hemp) Regulations.
An estimated 50 hectares is expected to be put under the crop this year, up from 24ha last season.
AMA chief executive officer Mr Clever Isaya said: “Industrial hemp farming is generating lots of interest.
“In 2020-2021, the total number of registered players stood at 21, with 13 cultivators, seven merchants and only one breeder.
“This total number of players has now tripled to 60 players, 27 cultivators, 18 merchants and 15 breeders/researchers.”
Currently, two companies — African Medical Cannabis Biotech and Swiss Bioceuticals — are expressing hemp oil from the local crop.
However, the sub-sector is experiencing teething challenges such as the unavailability of local hemp varieties, lack of local internationally certified testing centres and a guaranteed local market.
A kilogramme of locally produced industrial hemp is fetching about US$10 on the Swiss market, said Mr Isaya, adding that there was need to intensify research and breeding of local hemp seed varieties to boost production.
“There is also need for the establishment of local hemp testing centres, investment in research and development, as well as processing of hemp products (hemp grain and hemp fibres) and participation at international cannabis expos for more information on markets,” he said.
The Government has moved to remove industrial hemp from the list of dangerous drugs through gazetting proposed amendments to Section 155 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Tobacco Research Board (TRB) plant breeder Dr Kumbirai Mateva said this would help increase production.
“There are indications that the legal framework is moving in a more liberal direction,” he said.
“The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, 2022, is proposing the amendment of Section 155 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to remove industrial hemp from the list of dangerous drugs.
“The bill also introduces a legal definition of industrial hemp, which is defined as a plant, Cannabis sativa L, and any part of the plant, including the seed thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts and salts of isomers, whether growing or not with a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 1 percent on a dry weight basis.”
Most people, he said, confuse industrial hemp with marijuana, a psychoactive drug.
“Marijuana contains about 30 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — a psychoactive constituent of cannabis — which is considered very high, compared to industrial hemp, which has 0,3 percent THC content.
“Hemp is not intoxicating,” he said.
TRB, he added, is also proposing to raise the legal THC content of industrial hemp from 0,3 to 1 percent for effective medicinal purposes.
“An increased THC level gives industrial hemp farmers greater options when selecting genetics to cultivate and allows production for a broader range of markets (that is 0 to 1 percent).
“This is particularly important because studies have shown that certain genetics that combine cannabinol (CBD) and THC ratios produce interesting fibre qualities and also an entourage effect with synergistic therapeutic benefits from the CBD flowers,” said Dr Mateva.
Hemp-producing countries that include Australia, Ecuador, Malawi, Switzerland and Uruguay have raised their legal THC content from 0,3 to 1 percent. Applying for a permit to cultivate industrial hemp in Zimbabwe costs US$200.