Zimbabwe Uses Prison Property as Test Bed for Industrial Hemp Pilot Program

By William Sumner, Hemp Business Journal

Last week marked an auspicious occasion for Zimbabwe’s cannabis industry. On October 11, the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust (ZIHT) planted six strains, making it the first legal hemp crop in the nation’s history. For the last several years, Zimbabwe has flirted with the idea of cultivating industrial hemp, even starting a pilot program in 2017 before quickly backpedaling and focusing its attention on medical cannabis.

Much of Zimbabwe’s national hemp policy has been driven by one woman, Dr. Zorodzai Maroveke. A dental surgeon by training, she founded the ZIHT after learning about industrial hemp while studying abroad in China. Upon recognizing the crop’s economic potential, she returned to Zimbabwe to wage a one-woman campaign to legalize it.

“During my studies, I learned about hemp, developed an interest, and felt I needed to take this back home,” Maroveke explained.

To promote the issue, she wrote a white paper detailing the benefits of hemp cultivation and the differences between it and cannabis. The paper went viral after drawing the attention of a minister within the offices of then-President Robert Mugabe, and inspired the creation of the ill-fated hemp pilot program.

Taking the lessons from the canceled program to heart, Maroveke created the ZIHT to more effectively lobby the government. With newfound political muscle and the timely ousting of the Mugabe regime, she found greater success in persuading the government to change its hemp policy, ultimately leading to its legalization of hemp earlier this year.

As the first industrial hemp license holder, Maroveke and the ZIHT are conducting feasibility studies to determine how well hemp can grow in Zimbabwe.

“For this particular trial, we just want to see the behavior of the crop in our climate,” Maroveke says. “We’re going to spread the research around the country, and if we get different varieties, we’re going to test them.”

To accomplish its task, the ZIHT is working with Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services to cultivate hemp on unused land held by the correctional system. According to Maroveke, the reason for this collaboration is twofold: To make utilize the correctional system’s large swaths of unused farmland across the country, and as a means to reduce recidivism.

“I thought hemp was something that could help us create jobs and give these guys skills so that when they get out of prison, they have something sustainable,” Maroveke added.

Should the studies prove successful, the grows will go into commercial production. The strains of hemp used in the tests are European in origin and have been bred for grain, but Maroveke hopes to begin testing and breeding different varieties, including those of domestic origin.

The Hemp Business Journal estimates that within five years of starting commercial production, industrial hemp in Zimbabwe could generate up to $200,000 in annual revenue. While that may pale in comparison to the North American market, it represents more than 150x Zimbabwe’s per capita GDP of about $1,300. With a population of roughly 16.5 million people, roughly two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s workforce is employed in agriculture. Much of that agricultural workforce is engaged in cultivating tobacco, which has been declining in demand over the last decade.

Last March, New Frontier Data presented preliminary findings to the Zimbabwean government while working in collaboration with other regulators in the region to finalize what will be the first rigorous assessments of both risks and opportunities of hemp cultivation in Africa. Should the pilot crop prove successful, and Zimbabwe goes all-in on hemp cultivation, the economic impact could be significant, as detailed in The Africa Regional Hemp & Cannabis Report: 2019 Industry Outlook.

William Sumner

William Sumner is a writer for the hemp and cannabis industry. Hailing from Panama City, Florida, William covers various topics such as hemp legislation, investment, and business. William’s writing has appeared in publications such as Green Market Report, Civilized, and MJINews. You can follow William on Twitter: @W_Sumner.