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The Hemp Era in Uttarakhand – Current Scenario, Challenges and Opportunities

The Hemp Era in Uttarakhand – Current Scenario, Challenges and Opportunities

Sounding bugle for an awareness campaign about the economic and environmental advantages of hemp plantation, a Hemp Foundation team is visiting every door of hundreds of Uttarakhand villages, all living in extreme poverty. People are struggling here to square up their daily meals and other essentials for a living. Roads are non-existent and the HF team has to move on foot between villages.

Villages synonymous with squalor

One of these remote Uttarakhand villages in Pana Irani, 7 km ahead of the road. We trudged diligently on the muddy track to reach Pana Irani which was synonymous with squalor. To transport goods to the village, mules were the only way. In the absence of roads, there is little that villagers can do to find employment. The look in their eyes is sure to make you feel eager to help them in any way you can.

This story would fit in with any Uttarakhand village you visit. Derelict houses and destitution prevail all across the state, save a few patches like Dehradun and Rishikesh. The continuous migration of the youth and a few educated people along with other reasons has resulted in a vicious circle of poverty. If no remedial action is taken, even the coming generation will be destined to a life sucked in poverty.

Sans remedial action, poverty will stay for centuries more

According to the ‘Global Social Mobility Report 2020: Equality, Opportunity and a New Economic Imperative’ released by the World Economic Forum on January 19, 2020, the Indian poor will take seven generations to reach mean income without solid supportive action.

But can we let them struggling for so many generations when their fellow citizens in the metros are living in multi-story apartments with all the luxury? Doesn’t it require government and even societal intervention with a sense of priority? As citizens of a country that looks to be the engine of the world economy in the coming decades, it is our collective responsibility to try and pull these poor villagers out of their pathetic condition.

Hemp – the harbinger of change in undulating UK landscape

Volunteers at Hemp Foundation spent years plodding through the challenging landscapes of Uttarakhand, talking to hundreds of people we met, spending our days and nights with them, observing their life, digging into the history of the state and economy, and determining the ways to pull them out of poverty.

Our stress was on the economic activities which were rooted in local history, traditions, and economic activities. The objective was not to release for them a lump sum amount as relief or some sort of periodic installment but to provide them a method and an ecosystem to earn for themselves continually.

This is when we realized hemp could be the gamechanger. A string of reasons prompted us to conclude it.

Hemp a native of Uttarakhand, an offering for Shiva, and much more

In Uttarakhand, hemp has been in use since the dawn of civilization as food, medicine, religious ceremonies, customs, and household usage. Before the ban on hemp production came into existence, hemp seeds had been under use for centuries to produce hemp milk, oil cheese substitutes, and protein powder. Having a mild nutty flavor, hemp seeds were loved by many as their food item.

From long ago, practitioners of the Ayurvedic line of medicine used hemp for treating arthritis, asthma, warts, cough, and several other health conditions. When it came to customs, hemp had always been a part of Holi and many local festivals, not just in Uttarakhand but all across India. In the household, it was not uncommon for homemakers to use hemp in cooking.

Hemp leaves are offered to Lord Shiva with devotion. According to the 1893 cannabis study conducted in British India, hemp was one of the five holy plants mentioned in the Vedas and woven with various local cultures. Mythological texts like Shiv Purana mention hemp with prominence.

It was surprising how something so closely associated with Hindu mythology and culture ended up serving a blanket ban!

Aftermath of the lifting of ban on industrial hemp

Okay, you may be asking if the issue remains relevant now when the Government of India has already lifted the ban on hemp.

First, let us glance over the steps taken by the Government of India. What the government did was to permit the production of industrial hemp (non-drug category) and allowing its sale on general e-commerce sites after due diligence. However, hemp or CBD (cannabidiol) has not been yet made legal as an ingredient in the food, beverages, and food supplements. Section 10 of the Indian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985 empowers the State Governments to issue licenses for the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes.

A copy-paste policy with no local connect a grave mistake

The intentions of the government may be pious. The problem lies in them implementing the hemp industrial policy without putting in the thought it deserved. Go across the policy draft and it becomes obvious that it is a cut-copy-paste sort of thing. They just copied from what the US policymakers had done. Looks like the babus entrusted for drafting the policy were not aware of various products and commercial aspects of hemp and didn’t conduct any kind of research as well.

It was a grave mistake of them not to take into consideration the context under which the ban was being revoked. They forgot that the ground realities in India are completely different from the conditions in the US or any other country. While hemp may just be a minor factor in a huge economy like the US, in India, it may be the difference between utter poverty and prosperity for many. Thanks to hemp, a family in Uttarakhand struggling to have their daily meals may have a decent living.

While the government has made hemp legal, seeds are not yet available through any official channel. This suggests a major step such as introducing a new hemp policy was taken without any proper consideration and preparation. Moreover, the question is, why do they want to make seeds available when the Himalayan hemp is already considered to be the best in the world. People who have framed the policy have forgotten that hemp is a natural growth in the Himalayan ecosystem and no external seeds are required.

Flawed policy resulting in utter confusion on ground

Implementation of a flawed policy has had undesired effects in several layers. For instance, the locals are making efforts on their own to cut naturally grown hemp to save themselves from legal hassles. Farmers who have had so many regular challenges of their own are now perturbed trying to save their skin from the wrath of government officials. The reason – nobody knows what exactly the policy is and what is required.

On the ground, the people entrusted with the implementation of the policy have no training. The outcome is utter confusion at every level among the local government officials. Various excise department officials are defining the law in their own way. Nobody has any idea what needs to be done and whatnot. This has left farmers utterly confused. All they can do is to run around helter and skelter for advice.

There is no information on how the production of industrial level hemp will be monitored. Have the authorities designated a place in the country to check THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) levels in hemp? How will they determine whether a specific patch of hemp has been produced for domestic or industrial use? Who will eventually decide at the farms whether certain products will be allowed or not?

Ask the officials and some say seeds will be checked, while others talk about checking stalks, roots, and leaves. When the officials themselves are clueless, who is going to guide the poor, illiterate farmers? Immediate steps need to be taken to inform the officials about the policy objectives and the details.

Confusion regarding legalities

Several misconceptions are prevailing when it comes to hemp farming, processing, and other business activities. There is a myth that an Ayush license is required for hemp farming or dealing in hemp seeds. No, what you need is an excise license. An Ayush license is required only when you are producing hemp for manufacturing Ayurvedic/Unani drugs or retailing them.

The FASSI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) comes into the picture when the hemp is being used in food products. They are empowered by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) to act when a food item consisting of hemp is negatively influencing the health and safety of consumers. But when hemp has not been allowed as a food ingredient, the FASSI has no role, unless someone violates the law.

Centre for Aromatic Plants (CAP), Uttarakhand, was designated as a nodal agency for the cultivation of industrial hemp by the state government. However, more steps need to be taken to inform the officials on the ground as well as cultivators about the hemp policy, what is acceptable and what is not, and the support system available to the hemp economy.

Why introducing external seeds is a blunder

A colossal mistake committed by the policymakers is the introduction of external hemp seeds. Why on earth do we need imported seeds when the Himalayan variety of hemp, considered the best of its kind in all the world, grows in our own country naturally?

As history suggests, local communities in the Himalayas did not only use locally produced hemp for keeping themselves warm in the cold mountainous region but also to maintain high immunity in their bodies and keep various diseases at bay. Local attire included shoes, socks, clothes, and ropes made of hemp. People used hemp seeds and leave extensively for making delectable teas, fritters, and chutneys.

For these communities, hemp getting banned in the first place was nothing less than a shock. The ban led to the dying of centuries-old heritage in food, clothes, and local customs. They suffered massively because of the apathy of central and state governments to the local context and they’re coming under the influence of vested natural interests (read cotton lobby).

The fear factor among hemp producers

If the officials decide that a farmer is guilty of violating the law, they may simply burn/destroy the crops. If they want to take a more stringent step, they would report the incident under the draconian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. Many hemp enterprises, under the fear of the NDPS Act, would import raw hemp from China or Europe.

Moreover, Uttarakhand is the only state now allowing the production of hemp. The government has allowed only the seed and fiber of the plant to be used, prohibiting anyone from using the flower, leaf, and stem, thus hurting the earning potential of farmers as well as enterprises.

What is now being touted as a hugely positive step may actually turn out to be detrimental. The industrial hemp everyone is talking about is not actually Himalayan hemp, which is highly acclaimed for its extraordinary advantages. It is highly likely that the seeds introduced will be genetically modified like Bt cotton or Bt brinjal.

Gm hemp will spell disaster

Genetically modified crops have earned a bad name for disrupting the natural process of gene flow. Moreover, their seeds are 6-7 times costlier than conventional seeds. Over time, pests develop resistance to these crops. Then the manufacturers of these seeds will come up with more advanced versions of the seeds and people will have no option but to purchase them. Long term effects of genetically modified crops on the soil and environment are not yet known.

It is surprising that the Government has come up with a policy that requires farmers to purchase seeds supplied by external companies without considering that the seeds they provide may be genetically modified. Introducing these seeds to the Himalayan ecosystem could be deleterious. God forbid, if it happens, reversing the damage would be almost impossible.

To cherish the full advantages of the super crop that hemp is, it is imperative to use the local variety of hemp seeds i.e. Himalayan hemp, a 100% organic and naturally existing plant. Everyone who is aware of the possibly disastrous effects of the new hemp policy needs to be vocal about it and try to convince the government to roll it back.

Seed genetics has the potential to make or break hemp farming. This is a field we can’t afford to make a mistake in. Could we take the risk of introducing seeds in soil as divine as in the Himalayas without actually knowing their longstanding effects? Moreover, research on seed genetics takes time. It is not something that can be done and established in a few days or weeks. The regular time for developing seed is generally six years. When you add the local context, it could be even more.

The question is when an excellent natural seed is available for hemp production is Uttarakhand, where is the need to introduce genetic seeds.

Why de-addiction is a flimsy excuse against hemp

An excuse often given to disallow normal production of hemp is to promote de-addiction. However, this is a flimsy excuse against hemp as it is different from marijuana.

Marijuana is a Cannabis sativa plant with more than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Consumption of THC makes one feel the change in cognition. In other words, it is this element of the plant, which gives you a high. Cannabis plants with 0.3 percent or less THC are defined as hemp plants. Even a plant with a slightly higher THC (for instance 0.4 percent) won’t have any psychoactive effect on the consumer.

When hemp is devoid of the ability to make anyone intoxicated, the argument of de-addiction loses all conviction. All that the excuse of de-addiction is doing is to block the production of natural hemp and the subsequent economic benefits. It is ruining any chance of economic uplift of Pana Irani and hundreds of such villages.

It seems the narrative of de-addiction is the product of those who want to make good money by selling their seeds in India. They have conveniently hidden the fact that usage of these seeds will have a deleterious effect on the Himalayan ecosystem. Development of a lasting economic ecosystem of hemp-related products is only possible when a natural crop of the region is resumed.

The Government needs to recognize the truth and make a change in the policy. It is the question of eradicating the abject poverty in thousands of Uttarakhand villages. We can’t really afford to lose this great hemp-induced opportunity of meeting this objective.

Let us not repeat the failures of the past

In past, there have been steps taken with a lot of fanfare but which misfired, big time. Jersey cow and Lantana, which had been fantastic in other countries, turned out to be huge mistakes in India, causing the loss of millions every year. Examining these blunders in a bit of detail will help me understand better:

Jersey & Holstein Friesian in India experiment becomes a cipher

When Karnataka decided to import the famed Jersey and Holstein Friesian cows in their bid to get past Gujarat, the producer of milk in India, they hadn’t thought this experiment would culminate into an utter failure.  Only after the cows arrived and the results became obvious in a few years did they realize their folly.

Jersey/HF cows were built for cold regions where the temperature during the afternoon keeps below 25 degrees centigrade most of the time. This made Jersey/HF unsustainable across almost all of India, with the exception of hilly states.

These animals had small ears, making it very difficult for them to dissipate heat as ears are the cooling organs in the cows’ body. What was an advantage in snowing countries changed into a huge disadvantage in India?

With no bulls around, the cows had to be impregnated by AI. Moreover, the dairy farmer had to pay INR 1500+ for good quality high-yield gene AI straw each time they visited the AI center. Don’t get surprised, the process had to be repeated several times before the cow became pregnant. Thus, they were impregnated year after year without a bull.

Karnataka made another blunder. They inseminated a large number of native cattle population with the semen of Jersey and HF bulls. The progeny of this program had a high percentage of exotic blood. The executors of the program were delighted at their ‘success’, only to find later the cattle with exotic blood were susceptible to disease – a nasty side-effect.

The cattle population suffered from the outbreak of brucellosis and back-to-back outbreaks of zoonotic disease. Cross-bed cows failed repeatedly in conceiving. The Animal Husbandry department has been forced to roll out a new breeding policy.

Lantana invasion of Indian forests

An exotic plant with beautiful flowers, Lantana Camara is an ornamental shrub native to tropical America. Arriving in India in the early 1800s, it made its way out of gardens to reach the forests. Over the 200 years of being introduced, the lantana camera has now hybridized with its multiple varieties, making a complex that would intertwine with other plants by forming a dense thicket.

An invasive species of the top order, Lantana has made native plants struggle for space and resources, and also changed the nutrient cycle in the soil. Wild herbivores are facing a scarcity of native forage plants. If animals consume the leaves, they may suffer from allergies on their muzzles. Excessive feeding on lantana would result in the animal severely falling ill, or even facing death.

According to a study published in Global Ecology and Conservation reports, lantana has today taken over 154,000 sq. km forests, which is more than 40% by area in India’s tiger range. Forests suffering from the invasion of lantana include Shivalik Hills, fragmented deciduous forests of Central India, and jungles in Southern Western Ghats. Every year, a considerable workforce has to be employed by the forest department every year to eradicate the weed, yet it refuses to go.

Genetic seeds will be like self-goal, once again

The introduction of genetic seeds will be an unabashed repetition of the Jersey and Lantana story. Damage to the Himalayan ecosystem will be huge; to an extent, similar to the horror of the stories mentioned. As a sovereign country, we shouldn’t fall to the designs of seed-producing multinationals. We cannot let external seeds ruin our agro-economy.

Solution to get out of imbroglio

All the issue surrounding hemp is totally unwarranted. People in authoritative positions across the world fell prey to the false narrative of the cotton lobby, which was only concerned about serving its own interests at the cost of a super-crop – hemp.

The perfect solution will be lifting the ban on hemp and the legalizing of production and commercial operations of the Himalayan hemp.

What is the problem with legalizing hemp? If the Government legalize liquor, why not hemp? If they still have a problem, they can ask farmers to the fence and install a camera to keep a watch.

Let us have a glance on the multiple positive effects of full-fledged supportive hemp policy:

Eradication of poverty from remote hilly heartlands

The foremost effect of the embracing of hemp will be the arrival of prosperity in remote villages of hilly states like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, which had been the hotbed of hemp production in the past. If hemp is legalized, probably next time we visit Pana Irani, there will be a concrete road to reach the place. Instead of huts made of mud, there will be modern houses or apartments along with basic items of convenience like television, refrigerator, cooking gas connections, and more. The children would be getting a proper education, opening up for them a blue-collar career in the metros.

Read on the next section to find how hemp will bring down the curtains on poverty.

Huge influx of forex

Superior quality seeds of hemp are high in demand right now across the world. Nature has blessed India with the Himalayan hemp seeds, which simply have no match in the world when it comes to quality. The legalization of hemp will pave the way for the export of hemp seeds as well as numerous other products. This will ensure a steady influx of forex.

In the aftermath of Covid, when people will be wary of China, Indian farmers will have a grand opportunity to go and capture the huge market for hemp products.

Boost to economy

In the times of Covid-19, when the economy is in doldrums due to the long pause on economic activities, resumption of hemp farming would be a fillip for the economy. Return of hemp won’t mean just another regular crop. Don’t forget that it is a marvel crop, used for making stuff like fabrics, clothing, yarn, jewelry, home furnishings, paper, and more. As hemp comes into the mainstream, these sectors will undergo a fundamental change.

Freedom from the clutches of cotton

Cotton, which many perceive as the king of the fabrics, is actually a monster sucking valuable water in immense quantity. Just cotton needed to produce a t-shirt requires about 2,700 liters of water. It also consumes a colossal amount of pesticides. Cotton production in the US, for instance, occupies just 1% of the country’s farmland but would consume 50% of all pesticides.

In light of these facts, could you imagine the staggering negative effect of cotton on the environment?

Increased security on borders

Lack of employment and subsequently abject poverty has forced villagers to abandon scores of villages located on the border. This has posed a security threat as the other side could try to take advantage of the situation. Production of hemp will restore the village economy, encouraging people to return to villages and plug a security gap.

The list of the benefits will continue, but now let us find how hemp will obliterate poverty.

How hemp production will bring prosperity to the Himalayan region

When the leaders of the country are calling for a self-dependent (atmanirbhar) India, the Himalayan hemp can contribute to the realization of such a vision.

Centuries before, monks staying in the Himalayan range benefitted from some rare strain of hemp, which helped them achieve a higher level of mental awareness. Similarly, hemp can help our economy now immensely. A hemp economy can feed successful start-ups as well as existing enterprises.

As a region with natural hemp production, the hilly states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh can cater to the huge demand for industrial hemp across the world. Hemp produced here can be used as fodder for huge cloth and paper industries.

There is no dearth of hemp in India. If we just take fiber from farmers, make yarn from it, and then fiber from yarn, textiles costing millions can be exported. It will benefit our economy as well as ecology. However, no one is doing it for now because of misplaced policy and the losses are continuing.

Currently, 90% of yarn is imported from China. We criticize China and yet when it comes to getting our yarn, we are dependent on them. If we are able to produce enough hemp, we will be able to end this dependency. What we need to do is to encourage our farmers to produce hemp and promote the handloom industry in Uttarakhand and other hemp-producing states.

According to an estimate, the annual revenues just from hemp textiles in Uttarakhand will be more than 2.4 billion INR. A hemp farmer will probably earn approximately a hundred thousand INR every year.

1 lakh rupees annually from the sale of hemp and it is projected only for textile-based industries, not others.

It is time to believe in the power of the local.

Time is running fast. We need to act. Now

While many countries are competing among themselves to mount on the hemp bandwagon, all India has done is to launch a half-hearted industrial policy that will only serve in destroying the Himalayan ecosystem.  This policy has resulted in utter confusion at the ground level. Anyone has neither the seeds nor the information.

If the steps are not taken immediately to reverse the situation, India will be left behind in the competition. It is kind of who gets to the winning line first, so it is important for us to gear up with urgency.

We also need to keep in mind that the introduction of external seeds will be threat to the local ecosystem and enterprise independence. It will not be an exaggeration to compare it with the extermination of Jews by Hitler. All of us need to come together and create a sort of movement against this self-hitting step of the government.

An appeal to the youth of the UK

India cannot become a prosperous nation unless we are able to exterminate poverty in the hinterlands of the states like Uttarakhand. And the best tool to bring prosperity and dignity to the state is hemp.

Vow to make UK numero uno in hemp across all of India. Uttarakhand has to play the role of a leader to make India the top country in hemp production.

O the youth of Uttarkhand, Recognize your potential. External hemp seeds is the conspiracy of corporates to make Indians dependent. We can’t let it happen.

“Poverty is not just lack of money;

it is not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being.”

Amartya Sen

This is the country where the elite have put in place mechanisms designed to keep the people poor. Anyone who doesn’t speak good English is regarded as illiterate, no matter how knowledgeable they are. Conventional medicine systems like Ayurveda and Homeopathy are considered inferior to Allopathy, despite a mountain of proof that for the patients suffering from several ailments, alternative medicines are much more effective.

We need to turn over the system that considers Vedic astrology inferior to reiki, prefers Shakespeare over Kalidas, and prioritizes samba over kathak. Don’t let them demolish our own hemp for their beloved cash cow, cotton.

Take pride in your culture which evolved when humans learned to live as a civilization. Ours is a culture thousand of years old and hemp also has been a part of that culture.

Will we disrespect our own culture by allowing imported hemp seeds?

Will a country that offers hemp leaves to Lord Shiva depend on hemp seeds that have been genetically modified?

Uttarakhand is the land of ferocious tigers. Invoke the tiger inside you and destroy the nefarious design of the multinationals to enslave you again.

Remove the brakes if you want to win the race

Slow movers win the race only in stories. For winning the race in the real world, you will have to move swiftly with determination in your eyes.

This race is about making India numero uno in hemp production across the world, and Uttarakhand within India.

Yes, we have to make Uttarakhand the leader and trigger the reorientation of the state economy.

Raise your voice collectively so that it reaches the governments in Delhi and Dehradun. Hemp is a million-dollar industry and you need to win this for your state.

Stand up today to create a beautiful Uttarakhand with a hemp economy. Let us all begin growing hemp and take our fellow citizens on a new path. Let us make our dear Uttarakhand one of the most prosperous states in India.

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