Okay, not that.
This is the tale of…
No, not that either.
It all started like so. Two friends found an unlikely charm in the crests and troughs of the Uttarakhand mountains. Those friends were Vivek Singh, and Vishal Vivek (a.k.a. me).
We frequented obscure villages in Uttarakhand more and more. During one such visit, we noticed something odd. There weren’t any men around.
On further investigation, we learned that most men in Uttarakhand’s villages had migrated to cities looking for a job. With no alternate financial source, the women had to wait and see if the men would return with a means for food.
This was a heartbreaking reality check for us. And we were obstinate to fix things.
One pitfall of Uttarakhand’s terrain is how uncultivable it is. Well, uncultivable for most crops.
Hemp is one of the few crops that can survive without rich and nutritious soil. It can also survive in colder climates. But there was still a hitch. It wasn’t legal to grow hemp in Uttarakhand till 2017. We began our efforts soon after the legalization.
Raising Awareness About The Wonder Crop
Hemp is an age-old crop that many have forgotten about. So an enormous challenge for us, once hemp was declared legal, was to convince farmers to grow it.
There are many negative opinions about hemp farming. And without willing farmers, the hemp economy could not succeed. So debunking all these myths was the first order of business.
We spoke to countless farmers in Uttarakhand. We educated them about the merits of hemp, both environmental and financial.
Hemp Foundation worked hard to reassure farmers that hemp was indeed legalized in the country. Following this, we taught farmers how they can apply for licenses and fill out the paperwork.
But merely explaining facts without giving them resources is not productive. Appropriate training was necessary. So we empowered farmers with training for sourcing, growing, and selling industrial hemp.
An important criterion for growing hemp was keeping the Tetrahydrocannabinol concentration below 0.3%. This was one of the key teaching points. We taught farmers how to identify viable seeds and how to process the different parts of the hemp plant.
It was rewarding to see that what we had to say was being received well by the farmers. More and more people started cultivating hemp.
Getting Work Done, Without Men
A principal priority for us was to employ women as key players in the cultivation process. As I had mentioned before, the men had already migrated. So it was a no-brainer to work with the women remaining in the villages.
The Hemp Foundation conducts workshops to train and empower women. They are taught how they could profit from hemp and vice-versa.
We teach village women hemp-agro and marketing skills. Creating a financial opportunity for women is likely to increase their standing on the social ladder. And that’s exactly what happened.
Poverty levels decreased in families with working women.
Hemp Foundation heavily encourages women-centered self-help groups. We connect groups to income-generating activities to keep the women driven. Our fabric weavers are predominantly women.
Bringing Back Those Who Left
We thought it was unacceptable for people having to resort to leaving their homes. We needed to reverse migration patterns and re-habitat the eery ghost villages in Uttarakhand.
Hemp was the obvious solution.
Hemp can grow in infertile land. This was in abundance in Uttarakhand. Further, hemp can also rejuvenate the soil and replenish biodiversity.
With the increasing popularity of hemp farming, economic opportunity grew. This instigated many farmers to migrate back to their homeland and revive the abandoned villages.
This Is How Hemp Is Beneficial To The Environment
The benefits of reverse migration are manifold. The hundreds of thousands of hectares of abandoned land were once again put to use.
Without cultivation, the soil became infertile and was prone to erosion. One danger of unhealthy soil in mountain regions is the risk of mudslides. Reviving hemp diminished this risk.
Hemp is also an incredibly giving crop. By cultivating, it returns biodiversity to the land. You may ask, “won’t any crop do that?” Possibly, but none does it as well as hemp.
Hemp does not need chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow. It is a natural pesticide. The crop does not need a ridiculous amount of water to grow. And, as a bonus, it can be grown twice a year.
Hemp is also an excellent crop to be used in rotation farming. It naturally kills weeds, giving way for other crops to grow bountifully.
Every part of the hemp crop is put to use. The seeds produce oil, which is a popular ingredient in cosmetics and food. You can also make milk from the seeds which is an excellent alternative for vegan milk.
They process the stalk to make tons of derivatives of hemp products including fiber, paper, industrial concrete, and rope. Extracts of the leaves and roots are used for medicinal purposes. So, practically nothing goes to waste.
Perhaps the most interesting fact about hemp is that is it carbon-negative. It takes more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is input for cultivating it. Large-scale cultivation of hemp could solve the climate change crisis.
With all this in mind, we were keen to get the hemp economy started in India. We knew the benefits, and the world deserves to know it as well.
Here began our efforts to promote hemp as an environmentally sustainable alternative.
Products Hemp Can Stand In For
- Plastic: This infamous material needs no introduction. We are all well aware of the fact that plastic is clogging every pore on Earth.
Hemp plastic is a wonderful alternative to our traditional plastic. The cellulose from hemp is extracted to make a plastic material. It is quick to decompose. Therefore, it is a viable alternative to the much-loved (yes; I meant it sarcastically) polythene bags.
- Paper: The paper industry is one of the leading causes of deforestation in the world. Hemp paper is the perfect alternative to this issue.
Hemp grows much faster than trees. It also produces more pulp per hectare. Hemp paper does not require chemical treatment like wood paper does. And, we can recycle it more times than traditional paper.
- Fabric: The fast fashion industry is one of the most destructive. Hemp fabric is the ideal replacement for cotton fabric.
It requires less water to produce, and hemp fabric is recyclable.
Knowing hemp might solve many of the world’s most urgent problems, we pressed forth.
Research To Improve The Footing Of Hemp In The World
India, following a UN treaty to ban narcotics, banned the use of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in 1985. This came to include the cultivation of hemp.
The government ban halted all activities. Research regarding the properties of hemp and germplasm had declined. We wanted to fix that gap.
Germplasm research is typically a study on how to grow plants with minimum input but get maximum output. Hemp had some special needs, which Hemp Foundation began research on.
It was critical that hemp met certain conditions for it to be allowed for sale. The permissible THC levels vary from country to country. It was our responsibility to ensure they met the standards. The work is still going on.
The foundation also had to research the benefits of dwarfing the plants. It is important to apply this learning properly. This required another round of workshops and training for farmers.
Coming Together To Reap More Benefits
A big goal of the Hemp Foundation is to improve the living situation and provide a livelihood to those who need it.
The landholdings of many individual farmers in Uttarakhand are one hectare or less. The harvest in such smallholdings is not optimized. This is where cluster farming comes in.
Smallholdings are grouped and collectively provided resources. This helps form links between small farmers. It also makes links between farmers and local and government organizations.
With such resources in place, farmers will benefit from one another. It helps increase on-farm productivity and produce. In the long term, this approach increases profit and ease of farming.
Hemp Foundation helps facilitate cluster farming amongst hemp farmers.
We realized the world is suffocating as are the people on it. Hemp Foundation was my way to not sit back and just watch as it happened.