Today, as the planet stands at the dawn of global annihilation triggered by climate change, every individual and business is obliged to adopt sustainable alternatives to all their utilities and practices, with a sense of urgency. Undeniably, efforts are being made in the form of afforestation, minimising carbon footprints, banning the use of plastics, keeping a check on pollution and much more. But in a country where the majority of the population is still battling poverty, adopting sustainable lifestyles seems far-fetched.
Surprisingly, nature itself holds a highly effective solution to most of these pressing problems - in the form of a wonder plant - Cannabis - otherwise known as bhang, ganja or Marijuana (Yes, you read it right!) - but the non-intoxicating variety of this species - THE HEMP.
Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa ssp. Sativa) is the non-psychoactive variation of Cannabis with the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content generally below 0.3%. THC is the psychoactive component that is responsible for the ‘high’ in Cannabis. Hemp has minimal THC and maximum cannabidiol (CBD). CBD largely neutralises the intoxicating effects of THC and has multiple other nutritional and therapeutic benefits. Simply put, Industrial Hemp is a non-intoxicating Cannabis that alone offers thousands of pan-industrial applications.
Difference between the two species of Cannabis :
Industrial Hemp v/s Marijuana
Marvels Of Hemp
Now termed as a ‘blessing for humanity,’ Hemp is the only known natural resource that has more than 25,000 known end uses. From automobiles to apparels, medicines to cosmetics, fuel to paper, construction to animal husbandry and from food to biodegradable plastics, Hemp can be easily employed as the healthier, safer and more economical raw material in more than 40 industries, thus truly making it the most ‘sacred’ plant ever grown for mankind!
Practically, the Hemp fiber can easily fulfil the world’s clothing requirement with only 1/4th the amount of water (as compared to cotton), without any additional chemical insecticides or pesticides, using lesser land, providing a higher yield and above all, protecting the richness of the soil and making it more fertile while doing all of this! Hemp fabric is undoubtedly the ‘Sustainable Fashion Revolution’ that the world deserves. Similarly, Hemp seed oil offers to save the fishes, by becoming a fulfilling plant-based source of Omega 3 and 6. Hempcrete offers to provide better insulated and sustainable houses, without the use of cement and harmful chemicals. Hemp Plants can become the raw material for paper, thus saving our trees from deforestation. Additionally, Hemp is a known antidepressant and also helps to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, pain, seizures and even cancer! Moreover, it is also used in creating bioplastics, bio-leathers, bio-fuels and more; all of this while leaving a carbon-negative footprint.
Hemp is a wonder plant that can be used in totality from top to bottom. However, the production and usage of flowers and resins of the crop are illegal in our country.
Hemp modestly has the potential to replace 95% of our daily-use items, with sustainable, healthier and eco-friendly alternatives. Can you imagine the boundless opportunities that this wonder plant offers, just at the cost of a little extra awareness?
The Global Hemp Industry
According to a report published by the Grand View Research in February 2020, the global Industrial Hemp market is expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 15.8% from 2020 to reach $15.26 billion in 2027. Europe and China are currently among the largest producer and exporter of Industrial Hemp since the country never banned its cultivation. Other major producers include Canada, the USA, France and Chile. Germany and the USA are among the world’s largest importers of Industrial Hemp. For now, India only contributes less than 0.1% to the global Hemp market. Interestingly, Hemp - native to the Himalayan region - is considered to be the best in the world. This proposes limitless potential for the growth of the Hemp market in India.
The History of Hemp
Hemp is a traditionally domesticated crop, known to mankind since the dawn of civilisation. It was one of the ‘5 most sacred plants’ mentioned in the Vedas, along with Tulsi, Sandalwood, Jasmine and Neem. Known to be the most favourite offering to Lord Shiva, it was also the first-ever plant to be spun into usable fibre about 10,000 years ago. It was used in shipbuilding because Hemp-ropes were 3x stronger than cotton and were resistant to saltwater. The plant also found wide application in the field of Ayurveda and was one of the favourite spices in every Indian household. China began Hemp agriculture about 6000 years ago and just like the Indian Ayurveda, numerous Chinese remedies to date involve Hemp due to its miraculous curative properties. It is also believed that the Americans used Hemp as a currency until the 19th century! But then रस्ते पर एक मोड़ आया and Hemp suddenly turned bad. Here’s why…
The burgeoning popularity of the marvels of Hemp posed a serious threat to the big cotton-wood-paper-pulp-chemical industrialists. To protect their vested interests and greed, Hemp was banned, demonised and completely sidelined in the USA back in the 1930s. A similar ban was later imposed in India through the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, which termed Cannabis as illegal by scheduling them as ‘drugs’.
Hemp In India: Current Legal Status
With the multitude of advantages and opportunities that the plant offered, lifting the ban was inevitable. This was done by implementing the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act in 1985, explained as follows:
The power to licence the cultivation of Cannabis for medical and scientific purposes is strictly vested in the State Governments.
One can cultivate only those Hemp plants wherein the chemical composition of THC is below 0.3%. The act prohibits the production and sale of flowers and resins from Cannabis but permits the use of only the seeds, stalk and leaves of the Industrial Hemp plant.
Industrial Hemp products can be sold on e-commerce websites after necessary due diligence. However, Hemp or CBD is a prohibited ingredient in the ‘food, beverage and food supplements industry’.
In July 2018, Uttarakhand became the first Indian state to issue a licence for large-scale Hemp cultivation to the Indian Industrial Hemp Association (IIHA), restricted to cultivate Hemp for fibre to be used in the textile industry. Thereafter, Uttar Pradesh too legalised Hemp cultivation. Himachal Pradesh is expected to be third in line. Apart from this, one can easily research Hemp by obtaining a licence in any part of the country.
The hilly state of Uttarakhand can cater to the huge demand for industrial hemp across the world, by encouraging and supporting their farmers.
Indian Hemp Industry: Current Scenario
In India, the business ecosystem for all Hemp-based offerings is a ‘work-in-progress.’ In the past 8 years, more than 50 Hemp-based startups have been established in the country. These startups specialise in unique Hemp-based products ranging from apparels to personal-care kits, essential oils to bricks and concrete made of Hemp and much more. They are constantly striving to create awareness and bust Hemp-related myths among the people. With rising awareness and global demand, the Indian government is encouraging these startups. One example is that of the Uttarakhand Government that has allowed private players under the PPP model to form SHGs of rural women and farmers’ groups to develop the industry.
However, the Indian Hemp industry is still in the nascent stages of development and is limited due to the lack of knowledge, awareness and infrastructure. Representatives on the ground lack the legal knowledge, leading to harassment of farmers or ruthless burning of the Hemp crops due to improper quality checks. Consequently, very few Hemp product manufacturers utilise domestic produce, while a majority of them turn to imports of raw Hemp from Europe, North America or China. If we can overcome these hiccups, India has the potential to emerge as the leader among all the nations working towards rejuvenating this age-old industrial crop.
The Hemp industry is gaining popularity with each passing day. With the multifarious benefits that the crop has to offer, it is a shame and wonder to not innovate and capitalise on this untapped market. If India succeeds in exploiting this wonder plant by legalising cultivation in various other states and improving the infrastructure, the Gandhian dream of ‘Atma-nirbhar Bharat’ can soon be realised. The crop can help to uplift the lives of poor farmers and strengthen the Indian economy by converting Industrial Hemp into an alternative revenue stream. The day would not be far off when our country will proudly walk the path of development and sustainability, both together, with the help of Hemp!