Banhire: Taking a bet on the ancient herb

…Zimbabwean at the centre of cannabis revolution

Tichaona Zindoga

Herbert Banhire’s journey doesn’t have the usually-hyped and common beginnings of either having a strict, Christian father – at best – or, at worst, a drunk and abusive one.

His father, from Gweru, in Zimbabwe’s Midlands, was somewhat of an outlier.

He was a mbanje-smoking but hard working man of an otherwise respectable, – and crime-free disposition.

In Zimbabwe, the use of recreational cannabis drug (mbanje) has long been viewed with stigma and possession and sale of the drug still attracts criminal sanction.

Only in recent times have attitudes at official levels started to change because of the ongoing global revolution seeking to harness cannabis, also known as hemp, for various industrial and pharmaceutical uses as well as more refined recreational and consumptive functions.

Banhire is an entrepreneur, co-founder and director of Clonelabs in South Africa, which is a biotechnology company in the cannabis industry.

 CloneLabs provides superior quality starting materials to licensed cultivators throughout Africa by using state-of-the-art micropropagation techniques that it developed for the nascent market. It has become a big supplier of clean, healthy and stable cannabis varieties.

This past week, Cape Town hosted the Cannabis Expo, billed as the most important cannabis event in Africa.  It is a marketplace for cannabis related education, services and innovative products which cover various aspects of the industry.

And as Banhire took part in the fair, he couldn’t help but reflect on some of his upbringing back in Zimbabwe, where was raised and educated before pursuing tertiary education in South Africa, majoring in auditing and accounting.

“Growing up in a family where part of my hard working and focused father’s morning rituals was smoking cannabis without failure, I was never able to associate cannabis with crime, violence and other stigmas associated with the plant,” he told Review & Mail.

“The stigma and lack of legitimacy placed on the plant is not based on facts but myths and superstition,” he said.

As the cannabis revolution sweeps throughout the world, with countries in Africa including Zimbabwe legalising the drug for industrial use, Banhire believes that attitudes will change with countries taking a more progressive stance on the “weed”.

A glimpse of Banhire’s cannabis greenhouse

“We expect to see legislation being aligned to reflect that cannabis in not a dangerous drug as per the vote in December 2020 by the United Nations’ Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND),” he said.

This could mean a return to some kind of old order.

“Let’s start by putting it on record that the consumption of cannabis was prevalent in The Mutapa Empire dating back to the 15th century,” Banhire explaining, referencing an ancient Zimbabwean Kingdom.

“Cannabis was primary used for overall health and wellbeing and as an aid to relaxation and anxiety as opposed to consumption for its psychoactive and intoxicating effects.

“Cannabis has enjoyed a bad reputation for the best part of 100 years but thankfully research has debunked most of the myths that led to prohibition in the first place.

Value chain

In the present day, the herb has returned with much monetary value.

“The current hype surrounding cannabis is driven by opportunities which exist in this industry’s value chain from genetics and seeds all the way to the customer,” Banhire explains.

“This is probably the greatest opportunity in our lifetime.”

The work at Clonelab represents part of the significant value chain that is worth billions of dollars.

According to Banhire, the value chain starts from genetics and seeds, cultivation, extraction and crystallization, manufacturing and testing, product type (ingredients or final products), marketing, sales and distribution and then finally the customer (which can be medicinal and or recreational).

The cannabis plant is said to have up to 50 000 uses and through commercialisation and industrialisation corporates will benefit immensely from the business activities that are created by cannabis.

At the moment, the industry is still in its infancy and fragmented. Within the global value chain South Africa is mainly a supplier of flower and has lower comparative costs to other developed countries.

South Africa’s government unveiled a plan in August 2021 aimed at harnessing a 28-billion-rand ($1.9 billion) cannabis industry that could potentially create as many of 25 000 jobs and help attract foreign investment.

A worker examining a cannabis plant inside the factory

For countries the cannabis industry will lead to increase in economic growth, jobs creation and poverty alleviation. For individual farmers the crop presents another opportunity for earnings.

In Zimbabwe, there are concerns about the barriers to entry in the industry as they are very high from a compliance and cost perspective. Government is issuing licences for growers but the latter has to pay US$50 000.

Some institutions have made tentative steps to grow the plant for commercial purposes.

Last year, Government issued Statutory Instrument 218 Agricultural marketing Authority (Industrial Hemp) gazetted to “regulate the production, procurement, distribution, possession, sale, provision and transportation of industrial hemp.”

The definition of the plant in Zimbabwean law involves the “plant cannabis sativa and any other part of the plant, including the seeds thereof, and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, salts, acids, salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of no more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

Growing, researching or dealing in cannabis in Zimbabwe requires a permit whose three categories are, general growers, research and breeding and industrial hemp merchants.

The legalisation of the industry has led to Banhire paying attention to Zimbabwe.

“We are currently studying developments in Zimbabwe with a view to entering as an industry enabler. High levels talks are underway and more can be done to create an enabling environment,” he revealed.

Beyond this, the are some mouth-watering prospects for the industry and capitalists.

“The cannabis industry is booming and constantly evolving,” banhire said.

“There are lots of exciting opportunities in the industry from cultivation, manufacturing, production, processing, distribution, testing, financial services, technology, compliance, PR, branding, marketing and entrepreneurship.

“In Africa we should now start looking at positioning ourselves to enjoy current and future opportunities in the cannabis industry.”

Banhire told Review & Mail that personally he was eyeing priorities in intellectual property, CannaTourism and Education, recreational market, dispensaries, genetic and strain development, and exporting finished products.

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