Ellen Chasokela Herald Reporter
Six years ago in China, on her way home from school, Dr Zorodzai Maroveke bought a beautiful dress, but could not tell the type of material it was made of. The following day she went back to the shop and inquired what fabric her dress was made of and the shop attendant gave her a Chinese word, which she was only coming across for the first time.
Again, out of curiosity she went on to Google the Chinese word and to her surprise, she discovered that the dress was made out of industrial hemp.
While Mbanje is ordinarily known for its illegal smoking that makes one extremely high, donning a dress made from weed has by any imagination been out of question.
Clothing made of hemp fibre are lightweight and absorbent, with three times the tensile strength of cotton. They are weather resistant, Ultra Virus (UV) and mould-resistant.
Mbanje dresses are excellent for outdoor wear. It is versatile. Hemp can be blended with other fibres for different qualities in the garment.
Industrial hemp is a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant (mabnje) species that is grown specifically for the industrial use of its derived products.
Industrial hemp is used in the making of many products that include paper, health food and fuel.
Dr Maroveke’s discovery goaded her to do more research on the subject and without knowing it, she developed an interest which led to a passion that gave birth to an organisation called the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust (ZIHT), which advocated for the legislation of planting hemp in Zimbabwe.
She confesses that it had to take a dress for her to be the founder of ZIHT.
“I returned home in 2015 confident and zealous that l would convince the Government of former President Robert Mugabe. Unfortunately, it was not that smooth despite the fact that he was thrilled by the idea although I could not help but notice that there were some in his Government that had understood me and were for the initiative.
“I faced challenges, frustrations, being misunderstood sometimes even getting thinly veiled threats. When l was just about to give up we got a chance to meet the country’s current President Cde Mnangagwa who was then Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and highlighted to him that what we were seeking was a bifurcation of hemp from marijuana. This was a very positive meeting by all standards.
“By March 2017 we got the first approval of the concept and the following year in April, Zimbabwe became the second African country after Lesotho in 2017 to legalise medical cannabis courtesy of the numerous economic reforms ushered in by the Mnangagwa administration,” observed Dr Maroveke.
She added that despite the absence of a clause sanctioning the legality of producing cannabis, the Ministry of Health and Child Care went out of its way to find a way to get Dr Maroveke’s proposal moving and eventually getting taken on board the Cannabis Research Licensing provision.
Dr Maroveke proudly concedes that her organization became the first holder of a cannabis research license in Zimbabwe and recently planted their first crop at the Harare Central Remand prison with Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister Air Chief Marshal (Rtd) Perrance Shiri officiating.
Minister Shiri commented that the benefits that could be derived from the production of industrial hemp were enormous and varied.
“The benefits include employment creation, beneficiation and value addition as well as the supply side of the raw materials to our manufacturing, tourism and even the construction sector.
“Industrial Hemp can be processed into commercial and industrial products such as ropes, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation, biofuels and hemp jewellery.
“Furthermore, the available literature on the production of industrial hemp shows a quite a significant number of benefits when it comes to weed control. It can be grown as a smother crop to kill tough weeds,’’ he said.
After Government’s buy-in, D Maroveke’s second task was to convince her family on the relevance and legality of her project. When she told her parents, her father was thrilled but the mother was not amused saying: “Wakaenda kuChina kunoita dental medicine asi nhasi wadzoka wakuda kuita zvembanje (you went to China to do dental medicine but today you are back talking about cannabis).” But this did not deter her.
It actually gave her more reason to demonstrate that “hazvisi zvembanje” (it was not about cannabis the drug) but a great initiative that would benefit everyone.
Dr Maroveke gives credit to the Government of Zimbabwe for realizing and accepting that embracing industrial hemp is a great idea and opportunity adding that the new dispensation had done a very commendable thing to fast track Industrial Hemp legislation.