Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry is looking to cannabis as a major revenue source with anti-tobacco sentiment expected to dampen demand for one of the countries biggest exports.
Anticipated demand for cannabis is projected to continue to grow while tobacco output globally may decline 15% by 2030, according to Meanwell Gudu, the CEO of Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.
“One of the alternative crops we are looking at is industrial hemp,” he said by phone on Monday. “We want to be part of the entire industrial hemp chain.”
Tobacco earned the country $819m in revenue in 2021. Farming cannabis for medical use in Zimbabwe was first legalised in 2019.
The board has 145,000 registered tobacco growers, who started selling 2022’s crop at auctions last week. Farmers will be encouraged to plant cannabis so that a quarter of their income comes from the plant by 2025, Gudu said.
“It’s a crop that requires attention to detail, just like tobacco, and we are confident that they will have the skills,” he said.
The country exported 30 tonnes of industrial hemp to Switzerland in 2022, its first foray into the European market, said Zorodzai Maroveke, the founder of the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust. The group is partnering with the tobacco board to facilitate the “smooth transition” to cannabis for commercial purposes.
“Switzerland is the first gateway into Europe,” Maroveke said in an interview in Harare. Another 20 tonnes of industrial hemp are set to be exported to the European nation, she said.
The board will look for export markets for industrial hemp including in China, the EU and will also seek to develop a local market, Gudu said.