Zimbabwe wants to nationalise cannabis farming
Weed could provide the revenue stream the cash-strapped country needs
Cannabis farming in Zimbabwe could become the sole preserve of the government, less than a year after mbanje was legalised for medicine and research.
Government sources said there have been two meetings in the past few weeks at which the nationalisation of cannabis farming was discussed.
A billion-dollar industry globally, with earnings of over $20bn last year, cannabis farming could be a top foreign currency earner. Spending on legally-grown cannabis is set to triple globally by 2024 to $63.5bn, according to statistics portal Statista.com.
Derek Matyszak, a Harare-based senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said the intention of the Zimbabwe government to monopolise the sector was likely influenced by the huge revenues from cannabis farming. Given the government's shortage of cash, Matyszak said, it had identified a potential revenue stream.
"The suspicion is that there is military involvement in what is potentially a very lucrative project," he said.
Sources in the industry said senior officials at the ministry of health and child care had told them that the government "now wanted to nationalise cannabis farming".
"There has been a government directive to the effect that all cannabis operations are being taken over by the health ministry. The ministry will register a company to run all of that," said a source familiar with the latest developments.
Another meeting is understood to have taken place this week, at which officials from the health ministry briefed stakeholders on how the government would pursue nationalisation. Once all the approvals have been given, notice will be sent to all stakeholders, a source said.
On Friday, health minister Obadiah Moyo told the Sunday Times that the takeover of cannabis farming by his ministry was something that he "could not confirm at the moment".
Moyo referred queries to Donald Mujiri, the ministry's spokesperson.
Mujiri did not respond to e-mailed and texted questions, but acknowledged receiving them.
In terms of Zimbabwe law, the producers of cannabis are licensed by the health minister, who also has the power to audit their activities.
Ben Gilpin, the director of the Commercial Farmers Union, said there had been talk of cannabis farming, but farmers were not aware of anyone actually doing it.
"I only know the university [of Zimbabwe] has an experimental setup and is selling medicinal cannabis," said Gilpin.
Last month, Vangelis Haritatos, the deputy minister for lands and agriculture, told a meeting of business executives at the Africa CEO Round Table in Victoria Falls that the cabinet had approved applications from 37 investors who wanted to begin farming cannabis.
Looming government control over cannabis farming is consistent with the hints given in Harare last September by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who said the security sector would play an active role in the production and regulation of cannabis. He emphasised the need for the involvement of the army, police and state security.
"It must have maximum security, that is why the security sector should be involved. For now it is a security restricted zone," said Mnangagwa at the time.
Hopewell Gumbo, a social and economic justice activist in Harare, said control of the production of cannabis was ultimately meant to benefit the state.
"A stranded regime in a deepening economic crisis, like we see in Zimbabwe, is bound to explore the most bizarre of options for survival. Some government officials at one time were duped by the possibility of diesel flowing from a rock. The cannabis adventure is no exception and government monopoly in its trade and production is meant as such," said Gumbo.
Last year, Zimbabwe became the second country in Africa, after Lesotho, to legalise the growing of cannabis.
Before its legalisation, offenders faced up to 12 years in jail if found growing, possessing, or using mbanje in Zimbabwe.
Health experts say cannabis has medicinal benefits that include relieving pain and curing insomnia and anxiety, and can be used to treat epilepsy.
The secretary-general of the Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers Union of Zimbabwe, Raymond Sixpence, said workers on cannabis farms could expect foreign-currency earnings because their produce catered for the export market.
"Farm workers have for long been marginalised. The lowest-paid general farm worker takes home about $80 [in weekly electronic payment transfers]. It is our hope that this emerging cannabis sector improves the livelihoods of farmworkers," he said.