In Malawi, the government has approved plans to grow industrial hemp for export on a trial or temporary basis.
The government’s decision followed years of heated debate. The proposal continues to meet resistance from anti-drug activists and religious leaders.
Industrial hemp and marijuana are from the same family of crops. But industrial hemp does not contain the psychoactive chemical agents found in marijuana, the plant known as chamba in Malawi.
Last May, parliament member Boniface Kadzamira asked lawmakers to reconsider the plant's economic abilities. In his country, he says, people used to think that chamba caused madness and crime. He said people now understand that industrial hemp is purely a money-making crop.
Industrial hemp can be used to make paper, cloth, medicine and even food products.
But the government’s decision has anti-drug campaigners worried. Nelson Zakeyu is director of Drug Fight Malawi, a local non-governmental organization.
"That will just give an easy access to marijuana. The country will have so many problems. Some of the problems are shootings and suicides as it is in some states in the U.S., like California."
Tony Burden is director of Herbarium, a South African company.
He says industrial hemp is very different from marijuana.
"We will have to bring in the certified low-drug varieties. And they come from Europe so we have to see if they can grow here in Malawi. If they don't grow then we have to look around Malawi to see if maybe there is also industrial hemp in Malawi or we can see if we can make new varieties that grow well for Malawi's climate."
Joseph Chidanti Malunga is deputy chairperson of the parliamentary committee on agriculture. He told local radio that hemp will help the local economy.
"I understand the money it fetchesis more than what tobacco would fetch for a given unit area. So we think that if we go this direction, we might even surpasswhat even what we get from tobacco."
But religious leaders disagree. Dinala Chabulika is with the Muslims Association of Malawi.
"Whether it is going to boostthe economy or not, it is not acceptable. There is no inner permission Islam gives to any drug or something that would disturb the intelligence of a human being. So our recommendation is it should not be done."
The government has approved trial crops of industrial hemp starting next year at an agriculture research station in the capital, Lilongwe.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
composition – n. the way in which something is put together
variety – n.a collection of different things
fetch – v.to go after and bring back something
surpass – v.to be better or greater than something
boost – v. to increase the amount of something