CANNABIS CULTURE – Two weeks ago, Zimbabwe – a country with no functioning currency of its own and known for its harsh jail penalties on drugs possession – became the second country in Africa to legalize Cannabis cultivation and industrial processing, triggering a rush of interest from companies in Europe and Canada.
Cannabis use is widely banned on the continent though according the UN Office on Drugs 2017 report, though Africa comes second to South America in global Cannabis production.
As Zimbabwe okays Cannabis cultivation for the first time, land is reportedly being ceded to firms from as far as Holland (famed for its liberal attitude to Cannabis) in deals so shrouded in secrecy some activists dread this will probably result in communities being uprooted from their land to make way for foreign firms with cash.
According to Mr. Patrick Dutiro, a prominent lawmaker in Zimbabwe, firms from Canada have not wasted time and are on track to fence-off 10 000 hectares of prime land in Guruve, a central district populated by small indigenous farmers who usually scrap a living on its rich soils to grow tobacco.
“Guruve district, which I represent in parliament, is very ideal for Cannabis plant farming due to its excellent temperatures,” he said. “Only my district in the whole country has optimum rainy season temperatures of 20-30 degrees Celsius which are most favourable with this plant.”
He reveals what his district hopes to gain in any deals. “Future plans are to use local Cannabis juice for managing diseases like epilepsy and manufacturing ecological car dashboards.”
According to the country´s international trade ministry, in just two weeks since the announcement, a Dutch firm seeking to set up a factory and process Cannabis for medical purposes, has led the way as Zimbabwe received $US7 million from companies and people intending to venture into Cannabis farming.
If this is true, says Benson Fazenda, an independent economist in Zimbabwe´s capital (Harare), this is an astonishing figure because after years of economic turmoil, cash is largely hard commodity to find in Zimbabwe and its banks just dispense $20 a day per person to weary citizens.
Amid this reported rush, there is a caveat. According to Zimbabwe heath minister Mr. David Parirenyatwa, for any local resident to cultivate, process or export Cannabis they must cough up a whopping $US50k as license fees or end up sitting in prison if they shun the rules.
The minister adds, individuals applying for Cannabis licenses must be Zimbabwe citizens or residents or have a waiver issued by the minister. Those previously convicted of drug offences will not be allowed to apply.
On paper this cuts out the poor, women, and small scale farmers, and extends the dreadful possibility land seizures according to Isabel Chari, co-founder of Women Taboos Radio, a media charity that supports women farmers in Zimbabwe. “Who can raise $US50k Cannabis license fees in a country where the average wage is $US200 a year?” she moans.
“Zimbabwe is a country defined by a history of heavy-handed land seizures. When sugar cane fields were legalized to produce ethanol fuel in the south of Zimbabwe, communities are bearing the brunt of land grabs from a company whose owner was cited in the Panama Papers,” she says by way of example.
“With Cannabis legalization I fear women and poor farmers will be elbowed out of land as corporates and politicians strike cultivation deals.”
This exclusion of small farmers from Cannabis cultivation fits neatly with the government’s goals, says Patrick Dutiro the lawmaker. “It is our deterrent,” he says.
“What it means is that as Government we want large-scale, corporate growers whom we can monitor hence the $US50 000 is meant to be a deterrent against small-scale Cannabis farmers.”
He offers a ray of hope that poor rural inhabitants can be accommodated in Cannabis cultivation, “For small community growers of Cannabis we have two options with our foreign investors who want to develop fresh land. We are talking to them to come up with an outlying – grower schemes for contract farming where they lease some of their Cannabis leaf cultivation to local inhabitants.”
Entrepreneurship efforts are starting to emerge however – ordinary citizens using cheap but widely popular communication tools like Whats App to pool meager savings and raise the US$50k Cannabis application fees.
Isabel Chari the founder of Women Taboos Radio elaborates. “We are running a test program where we have pooled 30 women in a WhatsApp group to contribute $US500 each, apply for a bank loan to cover the rest, lease 400 hectares of land to grow Cannabis.”
“We are testing the government to see if they can really give us the Cannabis license or better still scrap off the punitive $US50k bar.”
(About me: Ray Mwareya is winner of the UN Correspondents Association Media prize)