Removing the Cotton Barrier To Indian Hemp
Several conspiracy theories surround hemp.
A variety of them proposes that certain companies and magnates seek to demonize it.
So that they could monopolize their own market. A market within other competing industries, such as paper, nylon, and cotton.
But there has never been strong evidence for this.
Hemp’s production declined because governments banned it, often misled into doing so because they never understood how it differed from its notorious cousin, cannabis.
Even today, we mistake hemp for its THC-rich cousin that is the source material for marijuana, hashish, etc.
That’s what happened in India as well.
Social movements and reefer madness myths led to its demonization. This paranoia soon worsened into a movement akin to the American ‘War on Drugs’. The United Nations then pressured many nations to outlaw hemp and its close cousins.
India followed suit.
The Indian government passed the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) in 1985, which put off farmers from cultivating it.
Then, until 2018, there was no meaningful activity that corrected this misleading legality.
In 2018, the Indian allowed the cultivation of hemp in Uttarakhand, which we will detail below.
But, first, let’s discuss why cotton, one of India’s most important cash crops, needs to be partially removed to allow farmers more breathing space.
How Cotton Fails Indian Farmers
India is one of the largest producers of cotton in the world. Cotton is still one of the major cash crops for Indian farmers. But its industry is being undermined by a qualitative decline. These are some of its drawbacks:
- Obsolete Machinery: Much of the machinery used in the mills is old. The spindles used are often decades past their prime. And only a very small percentage of the looms automate themselves. This leads to poor cotton output and quality. We can’t expect to drag these losses through the years.
- Expensive biotechnology: Many seed varieties are the intellectual property rights of biotech company Monsanto (now acquired by German pharmaceutical Bayer).These were sold to Indian cotton farmers at expensive prices. Most Indian farmers cannot afford this. Cheaper hemp seeds, on the other hand…
- Shortage of output: The raw material produced by Indian cotton farmers is on the lower side. This is either due to low-yield seeds, bad cultivation practices, or substandard machinery. Despite cotton cultivation at high acreage, the output is small.
- Governmental control: The Indian government hasn’t exercised a productive measure of control over cotton.They’ve levied heavy excise duty on cotton cloths, stifling growth. They’ve pressured prices and the distribution. They’ve largely overlooked the haphazard pattern of production.The result – massive losses.The failure of large parts of the cotton industry, and the many suicides of cotton farmers, are a portent. There needs to support from other cash crops, ones that are easier to cultivate, rotate, and distribute.Farmers should have a greater variety of options in an economic sense.
How Hemp Could Help Indian Farmers?
The advantages of legal industrial hemp are many, especially when compared with cotton.
Legally, the THC content should be at a low percentage, usually 0.3%. But now official agents are discussing them at an upper limit of 1.5% to allow a greater variety of plant cultivation.
That bodes well for the survival of the fledgling industry.
So what new tricks can this newcomer crop play, to make a name for itself?
- Multidimensional Cultivation: Hemp-related associations and companies are researching the many seed varieties of hemp (around 150!). It is promising to know that the crop can have many varieties with varying biochemical compositions. This expands the range of products and by-products for commercial purposes. It’s possible to breed them with variable cannabinoid (CBD), Cannabigerol (CBG), and Cannabichromene (CBC) ratios. This, to serve an eventual nutritional, practical, or medicinal purpose.
- Flexible Cultivation: It is also promising to know that hemp is open to the rotation with other crops, due to its small cultivation period of 90 to 120 days. This allows farmers to use several crop options, or even to have two harvests of hemp.Hemp also needs less space and resources than cotton, and with many Indian farmers not having enough land to use, this helps their case.
- Smaller carbon footprint:Concerns of sustainability continue to grow due to climate change. Natural resources are running thin in many regions on the planet.
So hemp cultivation’s lower carbon footprint makes it a crop of the future.
It only requires a quarter of the water needed for cotton plants. It also doesn’t need as much pesticide (it is quite pest-resistant).
- Stronger fibers than cotton:The fibers are stronger than cotton, and thus, we can use them for a variety of purposes. These purposes are clothes, rope, and cordage.
- Versatility:The uses of hemp are legion. It’s used for so many purposes, one would lose track.
Thus, it has high market responsiveness and can kick start a revolution in the Indian agricultural industry.
What with cotton’s many disadvantages (which we covered in the last section), we can look at it as an alternative.
We can use hemp for rope, textiles, bioplastics, bioethanol, nutritional supplements, edible oil, oilseeds, fodder, fiberglass, hempcrete, etc.
Nowadays, machines can even smooth out the coarseness of hemp fabric.
This will give it an almost-cotton-like feel.
Hemp can be made into anti-inflammatories too!
Eventually, we will learn how its compounds affect the human endocannabinoid system. That will increase its market potential.
How Hemp Is Shaping Up For The Future?
Back to history: The Indian government conditionally restricted hemp in 1985 due to the NDPS.
But the NDPS did leave room for state governments to establish their own policies on commercial cultivation of hemp.
The Cannabis sativa plants cultivated could have been of the non-psychedelic variety, had state governments designed to research and explore varieties (which they didn’t, on a large scale).
In July 2018, after much research and discussion, the Uttarakhand government awarded the Industrial Hemp Association (IIHA) a license to cultivate hemp.
As a pilot project, IIHA would cultivate hemp over an area of around 500,000 hectares in the Pauri Garhwal district. Later, the project reported to have an extension of up to 1,000,000 hectares.
The IIHA and the government did this to support the region’s textile industry, as well as the surrounding farmers and agricultural associations—which are in decline.
The estimated annual revenues from all this cultivation are Rs. 240 crore.
Such a prosperous amount would serve the region well, in the decades to come.
Uttarakhand has a lot of arid, dry, and barren land. But that is not an obstacle. Hemp’s flexible cultivation and low maintenance nature make cultivation doable. Farmers are encouraged by the information they’ve received.
Agents and officials promote the crop among the many farmers here. They’re also educating and spreading awareness. They hope that the hemp cultivation might spread to other states soon.
How Cotton & Hemp Could Work Together?
For the massive Indian textile industry, supported on the backbone of the cotton industry, hemp could be a viable complement.
Hemp can also be woven with cotton, nylon, lyocell, and other fabrics to vary the manufacturing process. Thus, the textile industry has a viable strategy in allowing hemp to bolster its many weaknesses.
- Agriculture in India is at a turning point: The agricultural industry cannot over-depend on intensive cash crops such as cotton and sugarcane. It needs alternatives like hemp to encourage farmers that their futures have wider potential. Hemp could redirect agricultural folk from migrating to cities, where they enter the technological and service industries to never return.
- Hemp is a trillion-dollar crop: It was always cultivated throughout India’s history. Unfortunately, due to mistakes over the psychoactive variety of the plant, India legally restricted it.
- But, as we learned, the pathway is opening up again: Many other nations, such as the U.S. and China, are now benefiting from hemp’s economic benefits. India cannot afford to lag behind in the agro-economic race. The Indian central government and state governments need to use the example of Uttarakhand.
- We need to legalize hemp, nationwide: We need to correct policies that restrict the cultivation of non-psychoactive hemp varieties. Educating policy-makers and farmers is the next step. We need to remove the taboo looming over hemp, and we need to help these farmers obtain hemp licenses.
We cannot abandon them to trip up in bureaucratic red tape.
We, here, at Hemp Foundation, seek to bring this awareness to our nation. We encourage investors, buyers, and agricultural societies to contribute to their cause.
This is what will get the Indian economy back on its feet. Agricultural societies, exporters, and MSMEs are in need of its benefits. It’s time for a change that will build a secure future for our farmers.