Hemp and India – what a combination! One of the oldest civilizations in the world and the earth’s most sustainable natural resource. Many countries are taking advantage of the miracle crop that hemp is. India is a country that still thrives on farming. Not just India’s economy but even its environment will benefit from hemp. And yet India is lagging behind in exploiting this wonder plant.
Cannabis has been used in India for thousands of years. In fact, the Vedas, estimated to be at least 3400 years old, refer to it as one of the five most sacred plants!
Hemp finds wide applications in the field of medicines, steel industry and as an alternative for harmful plastics. Here is an article in Medical News Today that highlights the nutritional benefits of hemp.
However, its cultivation is legal only in two Indian states, with a third expected to join the bandwagon.
When we talk about hemp and India, there are some immediate questions to address. Why did India ban hemp? When did it happen? What is the current status of the ban? What is the future outlook for hemp products in this country?
Let us try and find the answers in this article.
Hemp and India – The Ban: When and Why
In India, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act banned the production and sale of flowers and resin from cannabis. This ban was imposed in the mid-1980s. Until then hemp had been widely grown and harvested.
The issue is that hemp comes from the same family of plants as marijuana. However, it does not contain the same harmful effect that its notorious cousin does: Marijuana comes from a female Sativa plant containing psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is consumed to get a “high”. Hemp, on the other hand, contains less than 0.3% of THC and does not produce the same effect.
The USA, which had been a major user of hemp products, banned hemp in the 1930s, apparently due to pressure from big industrialists.
There has been a misconception around the possible effects of THC in hemp. Unfortunately, India stands among the highest consumers of drugs (by number) – next only to the USA – thus leading to a ban on hemp cultivation.
Hemp and India: Current Legal Status
The Uttarakhand state government has become the first one in India to issue a license for hemp cultivation. One can legally grow hemp provided the THC content is less than 0.3%. Uttar Pradesh is the other state that has legalized hemp cultivation. And we could soon have Himachal Pradesh as the third state.
However, there is no bar on doing hemp research for which one can easily get a license anywhere in India. What if one defies the ban on hemp cultivation? It could attract destroying/ burning the crops.
There are encouraging signs, though, what with the formation of the Indian Hemp Association and the pioneering efforts of certain entrepreneurs.
Hemp in India – Outlook for the Future
Consider this paradox: On the one hand, we have hemp, a wonder crop that could rake in millions of dollars in revenue. On the other, we have farmers struggling to repay their loans and even having to commit suicide. This is happening when many states in India have the ability to cultivate hemp. Let us examine a few ways in which hemp could contribute to the Indian economy.
Hemp – A Source of Quality Fiber: All over the world, cotton is the preferred natural fiber and India is no exception. While cotton takes about 9 months to grow, hemp grows to 12 feet in 3 to 4 months. What is more, hemp consumes less water and could be a boon to water-starved India. Besides, it is good at suppressing weeds and also can be grown for multiple cycles in a land.
Hemp – A Viable Source of Paper: Currently we are getting paper from timber trees but we might as well make it from hemp. There are several advantages to hemp paper:
- Hemp grown in one acre could help produce as much paper as four acres of timber.
- Hemp has shorter yield cycles meaning we can produce more paper from it in any given time period.
- Paper made from hemp is stronger and more durable.
Hemp Can Improve Exports: Given India’s hemp cultivation potential, the country could quickly catch up with the others – China, Australia, etc. – in exporting hemp products to the US and Europe. What can we export? CBD oil for which there seems to be perennial demand.
Hempcrete – A Sustainable Alternative to Concrete: Given the thrust to the construction industry in India, hemp could provide a sustainable alternative to concrete. While hempcrete is not in the same league as concrete in terms of functionality, it is quite promising in that it helps bring down the operating costs.
When we consider the potential benefits of hemp, the question that arises is “Have they been practically demonstrated?” So let us now look at a success story.
Using Hemp to Drive the Economy – A Case Study
Vishal Vivek, the co-founder of Hemp Foundation, had planned to do something on rural electrification in Uttarakhand. He, along with his team of social entrepreneurs, visited the remotest villages of India. Then, he spent time visiting hemp product manufacturing units and large commercial hemp agriculture farms across the lengths and breadth of the USA.
Vishal had seen enough. He knew that Indian farmers had an opportunity that could literally change their destinies.
When Vishal returned to India he, along with his friends, changed the original plan. They decided to do something that would illuminate the lives of many in India, not via electricity, but via self-sustenance, driven by hemp farming. Thus was born Hemp Foundation.
The company, today, supports commercial hemp agriculture in Uttarakhand. Hemp Foundation’s catalog of hemp passed products is expanding, consisting of hulled and dehulled hemp seeds, hemp seed oils, hemp bags, clothes, and a lot more.
Hemp clothes are not just easy on the skin but also a comfortable wear. They last longer too. Keeping in mind the advantages of hemp over cotton, the young entrepreneurs decided to source hemp from the farmers in Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. Hemp clothing has given men and women an opportunity to contribute with their handlooms and earn handsomely.
The challenge has been that people are under the wrong impression that hemp could harm mental balance. Hemp Foundation is working to get rid of this stigma.
Hemp Foundation is not the only Indian company working in the hemp industry. Here is a brief look at some others.
Indian Companies Making Hemp-based Products
Health Horizons, Delhi: This company makes organic products like body creams, hemp oil, and shampoos.
Foxxy, Mumbai: Foxxy Couture mixes high fashion and natural fibers to create a line of clothing. This company sells both office wear and casual wear.
Hempsters, Hyderabad: Hempsters makes completely hand-made, hemp seed-based products in body care such as shower gels and soap bars.
Satliva, Bengaluru: This company, whose motto is ‘Nature is the best Nurture’ offers skin and body care products made of hemp oil.
Greenjams, Vizag: This company makes hempcrete to promote green buildings.
Vedi, Bhubaneshwar: Vedi makes ayurvedic medicines from hemp, which it calls “a jewel in the court of Ayurveda”.
Even though there are only a few states that have legalized hemp cultivation, a good beginning has been made. Other state governments would do well to consider the following suit. Entrepreneurs must also explore new ways of exploiting this miracle crop.
Indian Hemp Association is doing its bit to bring to India the latest technology in the cultivation and processing of hemp. You can learn about IHA’s services here.
The day is not far off when the Indian economy moves ahead thanks to hemp.