Zimbabwe hopes cannabis will spark brighter future

STORY: In Zimbabwe, tobacco is known as "green gold" but farmers like Munyarardzi Nyanungo are hoping it's cannabis that will be the cash crop that sparks a brighter future.

Analysts say the global cannabis industry could be worth $272 billion by 2028 and across economically-struggling Zimbabwe there are hopes of cashing in on a boom in medical marijuana.

But there are costs and regulatory barriers to getting set up such as the requirement to use a greenhouse.

"This entire greenhouse you need something around $500,000 just to set up the structure, the plastics, the drip system is an additional cost, the seeds and the other practises we carry out in here."

Nyanungo and other producers are currently lobbying the government to relax the rules.

Zimbabwean officials also recognize that Africa's biggest tobacco exporter needs to diversify.

The southern African country was one of the first to legalize the production of medicinal cannabis in 2018.

It's issued 57 licenses, hoping for a fresh income stream of badly-needed export dollars.

That money has been coming in from companies like U.S.-based King Kong Organics - giving Black farmers who once struggled in Zimbabwe's dysfunctional economy, a fresh opportunity to prosper.

Cannabis products were on show at a national trade fair in second city Bulawayo earlier this month.

Speaking there, Dr Zorodzai Maroveke, the CEO and founder of Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust, warned that the challenges remain.

“If anyone, is going to grow medical grade cannabis, it’s going to be at their risk because there are too many variables, too many factors. So much can go wrong, it will be a risk to the farmer.”

Nevertheless, the rewards can be substantial.

Operating since 2003, Nyanungo's Forest Farm has been growing traditional crops of tobacco and maize as well as raising cattle.

But having acquired a cannabis license in 2020, a quarter of his 80 farm hands are now devoted to that side of the business.

Their first harvest is in August - from which Nyanungo's expecting more than $2.5m in profit.

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