Zimbabwe’s Transition to Hemp Cultivation Raises Food Security Concerns

In an agricultural shift that could redefine Zimbabwe’s economic landscape, farmers in the southern African nation are increasingly abandoning traditional staple crops like corn in favor of the lucrative hemp industry. However, this pivot has sparked concerns among officials about potential threats to the country’s food security.

Agriculture contributes nearly a fifth of Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP), with maize traditionally dominating crop production. But recent regulatory changes, including raising the legal THC limit for industrial hemp from 0.3% to 1%, have opened new doors for the cannabis sector.

International companies have taken note, with Zimbabwe exporting over 8,000 tons of hemp to European nations like Poland, Switzerland, and Germany in recent years. The Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA), which oversees the hemp industry, is optimistic about its potential, with one official describing Zimbabwe as “on track to emerge as a regional leader in industrial hemp production.”

Yet, this transition is not without its challenges. Dr. Frank Magama, CEO of Kutsaga Research Station, encapsulated the dilemma: “The challenge lies in balancing the cultivation of crops for industrial purposes with the imperative to ensure food security.”

Zimbabwe’s agricultural legacy is deeply rooted in food production, with the country once boasting the fastest-growing crop economy, according to a 1975 UN report. With nearly 40% of the population living in poverty as of 2019, maintaining a reliable food supply remains a critical priority.

The government is exploring strategies to identify hemp varieties suitable for local cultivation while mitigating risks to traditional crop yields. As Magama stated, “As we explore the potential of hemp, we must also consider our longstanding tradition of food production and the critical importance of maintaining food security.”

Zimbabwe’s embrace of hemp marks a seismic shift from its previous stance, when nearly all forms of cannabis were illegal until medical and scientific use was legalized in 2018. Since then, over 60 entities have registered in the hemp trade, production, and research sectors.

With higher THC caps and looser restrictions, hemp could eventually rival or surpass maize as Zimbabwe’s primary cash crop. However, striking the right balance between economic opportunities and food self-sufficiency will be crucial for the nation’s policymakers as this green revolution unfolds.


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