Zimbabwe Shifts From Mere Cultivation for Export to Medical Cannabis

– The African nation shifts focus, licensing companies to produce cannabis-based medicine for domestic use.

John Cassim

HARARE, Zimbabwe – The Medicines Control Association of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) has announced the licensing of a small number of pharmaceutical companies to manufacture cannabis-based drugs. This development comes several years after Zimbabwe issued permits to 60 cannabis farmers, a move that positioned the country as an early adopter of cannabis production in Africa.

Initially, cannabis cultivation was envisioned for export purposes. Licensing requirements reflected this goal, with investor entry fees ranging from US$50,000 to US$1 million. 

However, the legal framework only allows for crop production for export, criminalising possession of marijuana within the country.

Recognising the potential of medical cannabis, the Ministry of Health and Child Care intervened. With an eye towards domestic production for medical use, the MCAZ began registering products from local producers.

“We are happy to say of the 60 (licensed producers), there are quite a number who have not only exported their produce, but we have about three who have pivoted and are now also producing pharmaceutical preparations for the Zimbabwe market,” said Richard Rukwata, Director General of the MCAZ. “We have at this point registered about five products from local producers, and I’m sure these will be launched very soon.”

This shift in focus from export-oriented cultivation to domestic production of medical cannabis is seen as a positive development.

Cannabinoids, a Zimbabwean company already producing medical cannabis products, highlights the advantages of this new market.

“We are a CBD (Cannabidiol) based brand so far,” explained Kudzai Hove, founder of Cannabinoids. “We have registered products on the market for medical use, these are entirely cannabidiol CBD based with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) below the legal limit of 1% in Zimbabwe. Our products are manufactured in a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) facility for use as adjuvant treatment for a number of conditions.”

In pharmacology, an adjuvant is a drug or other substance, or a combination of substances, that is used to increase the efficacy or potency of certain drugs. Adjuvant chemotherapy is administered after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells with the goal of reducing the chances of recurrence.

While the efficacy of these drugs has been questioned by some Zimbabweans, authorities assure the public of minimal risk due to the 1% THC threshold.

Challenges and a Glimmer of Hope

Despite this progress, the road ahead for Zimbabwe’s cannabis industry is not without hurdles. Munyaradzi Chedondo, a consultant for Bangi Agriculture, a company specialising in cannabis farming assistance, emphasises the knowledge gap among farmers.

Munyaradzi Chedondo, inspecting some Cannabis plantation in Zimbabwe

“The biggest challenge that farmers face in Zimbabwe is knowledge,” Chedondo said. “A lot of farmers got conned by the first people who got into this industry. They bought seed at very high prices and then they grew the cannabis and then after everything else, they found out that they could not get a market.”

Chedondo, underscores the high costs associated with certification processes, further limiting accessibility for smaller-scale farmers.

A Viable Alternative to Tobacco?

Zimbabwe’s foray into medical cannabis production comes amidst a decline in the global tobacco market, a sector that has long been a mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy. 

With this shift, some hope that cannabis can provide a sustainable alternative source of income for farmers.

Despite the challenges medicinal cannabis is good business, according to Chedondo.

“Medicinal cannabis, it’s just good business,” said Munyaradzi, who is also a former tobacco farmer. “On a comparative level with tobacco, it pays better.”

While the industry is still in its nascent stages, the potential for growth is undeniable. The global cannabis market is anticipated to reach a staggering US$46 billion within the next three years, up from US$16.47 billion currently.

Meanwhile investment experts say the cannabis market is growing fast and that there are projections that this could be a game-changer for this country.

As Zimbabwe navigates this new frontier, attracting foreign investment and ensuring accessibility for local farmers will be crucial in determining the ultimate success of the medical cannabis industry.

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