Zimbabwean farmers hope to feel the cannabis boom | world news

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean farmers looking to cash in on a global boom in medical cannabis face a litany of costs and regulatory hurdles, but growers like Munyaradzi Nyanungo are betting it will boost their fortunes after decades of economic decline.

The southern African country became one of the first in Africa to legalize medical cannabis production in 2018, hoping for a new revenue stream of much-needed export dollars, and issued 57 licenses.

With funding from foreign companies such as US-based King Kong Organics, black farmers like Nyanungo, 35 – who have struggled to thrive in a moribund economy – are seeking to diversify from traditional crops like tobacco to cannabis.

“We are ready to sell cannabis at $25 per kilogram, which is five, six times more than what a good tobacco crop can give you. We are actually sitting on a mine of green gold,” Nyanungo said. .

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The global cannabis industry could be worth $272 billion by 2028, Barclays analysts say, and Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube says the country wants at least $1 billion, or more than what he currently earns with his main agricultural export tobacco.

As Africa’s largest tobacco producer, Zimbabwean officials also recognize the need to diversify away from the addictive narcotic that has proven to be ruinous to the health of smokers and those around them. Cannabis is considered a less harmful alternative to cigarettes and its cannabidiol (CBD) is widely accepted as a natural remedy.

But challenges remain, including the huge cost of setting up amid tight regulations, such as the requirement to use a greenhouse to meet the criteria for ‘organically grown’ cannabis – needed to be able to sell it. in the medical market.

“A greenhouse is very expensive,” Nyanungo said, cutting the distinctive fan-shaped leaves from his farm. “This entire greenhouse: you need about $500,000 just to install the structure,” not including the drip system and seed inputs.

Nyanungo’s US partner King Kong Organics, which supplies seeds and other inputs, has purchased the greenhouses as part of an off-take deal that will see the company purchase the cannabis crop for processing.

That, he said, brings the cost of growing a single hectare of cannabis to $2.5 million. He and other producers are currently lobbying the government to relax the rules and cut costs.

The Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency, which licenses cannabis growers, did not respond to a request for comment.

“If anyone wants to grow medical grade cannabis, it will be at their own risk because there are too many variables,” said Zorodzai Maroveke, CEO and Founder of Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust. “So many things can go wrong.”

Still, the rewards could be substantial.

In operation since 2003, the Nyanungo Forest Farm grows traditional crops of tobacco and maize and raises livestock, but acquired the cannabis license in 2020. Of its 80 farm workers, 20 now work on the cannabis plants.

He expects to make a profit of $2.5 million from the first harvest in August, which is significantly more than what he earned from his other crops and livestock.

(Editing by Tim Cocks and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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