Zimbabwe is set to become a regional hub for industrial hemp production as more farmers are receiving better results from their pilot projects.
These developments are results of the approval of the production of industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis by President Mnangagwa in 2019.
Current successes in pilot projects, which are pointing to increased production in the coming few years, dovetails with the Second Republic's plan to increase agriculture's contribution to gross domestic product from 12 percent to 20 percent by 2030.
Although production was initially disturbed by coronavirus pandemic as experts could not move into the country to assist farmers and set up centres of excellence, the easing of travel restrictions has seen first pilot projects taking off in most parts of the country.
Once production peaks, Zimbabwe is expected to become the largest producer in the region, which will allow local farmers to secure a niche market for industrial hemp and related products.
One company operating in Headlands, Manicaland province, is already recording positive results from a 10-hectare pilot project and indications are that it will meet high yields from the project.
The company plans to put an initial of 1,000 hectares of industrial hemp in Headlands and Middle Sabi.
During a recent field day organised by the company at its farm in Headlands, plans were revealed for integration of smallholder farmers into industrial hemp production through an out grower scheme.
The field day was attended by ZimTrade, Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust Canamedix, Agricultural Marketing Authority, and officials from Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement.
Speaking during the tour of the pilot project, Takunda Chifokoyo, the director of Canamedix, said the country has good soils and access to skills necessary for increased production of industrial hemp.
"Zimbabwe is ideal for hemp cultivation because it has multi-generational, world class farming expertise and copious amounts of arable land.
"Zimbabweans are faced with the choice of becoming competitors in the race to seek economic advantage from hemp," he said.
Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust founder and chief executive officer, Dr Zorodzai Maroveke, said the growing interest among farmers to consider industrial hemp indicates the country has potential to be the largest producer in Africa.
"There is a realization among farmers that they can grow industrial hemp if they receive enough capacity building and support from partners, and the interest generated so far shows prospects of meaningful production in the coming years," said Dr Maroveke.
As most of current production is earmarked for export, industrial hemp will boost Zimbabwe's foreign currency earnings.
Allan Majuru, the chief executive officer of ZimTrade - the country's trade development and promotion organisation - said local farmers should take advantage of the growing demand for environmentally friendly products to grow industrial hemp for the African market and beyond.
"Demand for industrial hemp is growing across the world and the product offers quick wins for farmers who are looking at diversifying their export basket.
"With the growing demand for products that are considered as sustainable and friendly to the environment, the potential for industrial hemp to substitute synthetic products means more markets will rise quickly as perceptions of the product continue to change," he said.
According to a research by Grand View Research, the global industrial hemp market size was estimated at US$4,71 billion in 2019 and is expected to register a revenue-based compound annual growth rate of 15,8 percent between 2020-2027.
The market is driven by the growing demand for hemp oil and fibres in the automotive, construction, food and beverage, personal care, and textile industries.
Rising demand for oil paints, varnishes, printing inks, fuel, solvents, chain-saw lubricants, putty, and coatings is expected to further propel the product demand.
In addition, growth in the investment towards the production of hemp-based products is expected to drive the market growth.
To maximise on projected demand, Mr Majuru said although exporting raw products will earn local farmers foreign currency, there is potential to earn more if they value-add and export finished products such as clothing, paper, canvas, carpets, cordage, and insulating materials.
"Production of commodities such as bioplastics and insulation, which normally require imported raw materials, stand to benefit if production of hemp and value addition is increased to meet industry demand," said Mr Majuru.