WATCH: Bulawayo farmers tap into medical cannabis Farmer Ms Kerrie Mitchell explains the processes involved in cannabis farming at Thathokuhle Farm in Douglasdale yesterday

Raymond Jaravaza, [email protected] 

THATHOKUHLE Farm, located in Douglasdale, Bulawayo, has transformed into a prosperous cannabis farming project. 

This initiative is being spearheaded by experienced farmers, Mr Mike Querl, his wife, Ms Kerrie Mitchell, and their business partner, Mr Graeme Jansen Van Vuuren. 

Following the Government’s decision to legalise the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes in April 2018, the trio decided to venture into commercial cannabis farming in 2021.

The Government legalised the production of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes under Statutory Instrument 18 (Dangerous Drugs — Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Scientific Use Regulations).

Under this legal instrument, producers of cannabis must be licensed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

Ms Mitchell explained that they designated a section of their 1,2-hectare farm for cannabis cultivation, sourcing high-quality seeds from reputable suppliers suitable for medicinal use. 

They made enormous investments in greenhouses, irrigation systems, and security measures to guarantee optimal growing conditions and protect the valuable plants.

She said they currently have about 2 500 cannabis plants in their greenhouse, with an expected harvest of about one kilogramme of cannabis per plant. In their first season, they harvested half a kilogramme per plant. 

“It was still a learning curve and we have continued to improve the yields with each season. Regulatory authorities licensed 57 cannabis growers, but only seven are actively involved in commercial cannabis growing,” said Ms Mitchell.

The growing process, Ms Mitchell said, begins with planting the seeds in a germination room where they sprout before being put into bags of soil. 

The plants are then transferred to a hardening room and grow to a length of around 40cm. Finally, the plants are planted into beds in the greenhouse. 

Cannabis plants have two cycles; the vegetative stage where they grow under light for eight weeks, and the flowering stage, which takes around two months. The flowers, used for medical purposes like marijuana oil and recreational use, are harvested when the plants are six months old.

The harvested cannabis is hung in a drying hanger under regulated temperatures for about 10 days before being exported for medical or recreational purposes in countries like the Netherlands. 

Ms Mitchell stressed that cannabis farming is a scientific process, thus farmers must follow the rules. Cutting corners jeopardises the product’s quality, causing it to fail the Certificate of Analysis, and rendering it unsellable.

“When it’s time to harvest, we harvest the flowers. Contrary to popular belief, people who smoke marijuana for recreational purposes in countries that have legalised it actually smoke the flowers and not the leaves,” said Ms Mitchell.

When the flowers are harvested, the stems and leaves are used as compost for the next planting season, she said.

Thathokuhle Farm employs 82 workers, increasing to around 150 during the harvesting season. Workers comb through the thousands of cannabis plants, weeding out male species to prevent pollination. 

The farm, besides cannabis growing, engages in fish farming and growing exotic fruits, selling them locally.

“We have a few challenges when it comes to exporting cannabis such as the need to get it tested in a laboratory here in Zimbabwe and then tested again in South Africa because the local tests are not recognised internationally.

“The other issue is that the laws around the growing of cannabis are copied and pasted from other countries and some of the laws don’t apply to the Zimbabwean context. There is too much bureaucracy in the regulatory authorities that we have to go through before exporting.”

Ms Mitchell said testing it locally and internationally is time-consuming, but she believes that cannabis farming can significantly benefit Zimbabwe’s economy, especially communal farmers. 

Zimbabwe has a perfect climate for cannabis cultivation, with sunshine all year round, unlike Europe, where it is a once-a-year crop. She said a kilogramme of cannabis can fetch as much as US$500.

Thathokuhle Farm, Ms Mitchell indicated, is assisting the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) in setting up cannabis farming at Khami Prison. Moreover, they are looking to train small-scale farmers in Nyamandlovu to start growing cannabis. 

Professor Harry Chiririwa, who conducts research on the benefits of cannabis at Vaal University of Technology in South Africa, noted that cannabis oil could benefit several medical conditions such as treating cancer, pain relief, depression, sleeping disorders and skincare.

“We grow cannabis on a five-hectare farm under greenhouses and we are involved in the extraction of cannabis oil for medical purposes such as cancer treatment, pain relief, depression, sleeping disorders, skin care and a whole range of purposes,” said Prof Chiririwa.

He said his university has a team of students researching other benefits of cannabis such as the root system.

“We are in conversation with several companies back home in Zimbabwe for research on the benefits of cannabis and there is a facility being built in Goromonzi for that purpose. There are also conversations with the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency to see how they can assist in that regard,” Prof Chiririwa said.

 

 

 

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