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What Actions Government of India Need to Take to Help Hemp Industry

What Actions Government of India Need to Take to Help Hemp Industry

You have got a choice to make when you visit Uttarakhand. Head for the majestic snow-capped mountains for a breathtaking trek, camping, or rafting; Or go to the tiny hamlets on the undulating mountain slopes, many of which are in an abandoned state or in utter poverty.

Drive to any of these villages and you will feel distressed by the sights of extreme squalor. Houses with mud and straw with no proper facilities for cooking or even relieving oneself; decrepit roads which are almost non-existent, lack of any stuff which could indicate they are there in the 21st century and not the villages that existed a couple of thousand years ago.

Stroll in an afternoon and you will find men and women gathered outside their residential structures, squatting or sleeping. Some might be alone, just looking around without an objective. You look at them and they will probably smile back as if welcoming you. Talk to them and you will feel their warmth rubbing on you. I bet you spend some time with them and you will feel like doing something to help them form the core of your heart.

Role of Government – what worked, what didn’t, and how to make things work

You will wonder why this component of our population is still grappling with poverty after more than seven decades of independence. Why development didn’t reach these parts of India – you might be asking yourself?

Why didn’t the government take development to these poor folks? The mighty government could have done it if it really wanted, you may be assuming.

Well, the truth is. All governments in India did what they could to make life in these villages better. But there are certain limitations all governments face. Giving these folks a grant one-time or farm subsidies would only help in the short term. There are geographic limitations as well, creating issues in the supply chain, transport, etc. The government itself made some colossal mistakes such as promoting a disastrous plant like cotton (don’t get surprised, will explain later) and giving more attention to the development of urban, while real India lived in the countryside.

The fact is – we cannot term development real until it reaches the last person in society. This last person probably lives somewhere in Uttarakhand.

We cannot reach the destination if we end up choosing the wrong path. The government, on its part, needs to review the policies which failed to meet the goals.

First of all, we need to understand the imported policies won’t work in a large and diverse industries like ours. We need to get rid of our tendency to copy-paste policies and devise policies rooted in our own soil and traditions.

Role hemp can play in eradicating poverty in remote regions

One crop which has the potential to eradicate widespread poverty and lead our villages to prosperity is hemp. There are almost numerous reasons for it.

Hemp, called a wonder plant, can be used in totality, from top to bottom, unlike any other plant. Whether it is hemp seeds, leaves, or stalk, every part can be used.

Here are the various uses of different parts of the plant:

Stalk textiles, insulation, rope, paper, organic, animal bedding, fiberboard

Seeds – cooking oil, dietary supplement, body care products, fuel, flour, beer, animal feed, milk, bakery, protein powder

Roots – medicine, organic compost

Leaves/flowers – animal bedding, compost, medicine

In states like Maharashtra and Gujarat, cotton boosted farmers’ income, though for a short term and drastically negative environmental impact. It became clear that producing cotton wasn’t sustainable. Trying to replicate the success of cotton elsewhere in the country was also a futile exercise.

Hemp vs cotton – a glance

Hemp, however, could be a robust replacement for cotton. When you compare the production of these crops per acre, there is a drastic difference. The average production of hemp is 1,500 pounds of fiber per acre of land in comparison to cotton, which is just 500 pounds of fiber per acre of land on average. The growing cycle for hemp is also 108 to 120 days, while the growing cycle for cotton is 5.5 to 6.5 months.

These are just direct advantages of hemp. When you take into account the indirect benefits that hemp brings in, the gap between the two crops becomes very large. Hemp doesn’t require pesticides or chemicals to grow, which considerably brings down the costs for the farmers. What is more, hemp purifies soils and destroys some harmful weeds.

On the other hand, the ancillary costs of cotton are simply too high. Cotton requires a humongous amount of water (about 10,000 liters of water for 1 kilogram of fabric) and requires a lot of pesticides to protect it from pests. Moreover, the cotton plants can be used only for making clothes, contrary to hemp, which has a string of uses.

For producing the same amount of fabric, hemp would require just 25% of land than cotton. If a cotton grower is earning INR 8000 per acre per crop someone cultivating hemp can earn several times more. This data suggests if the government promotes the cultivation of hemp actively in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and other states of India, it can prove to be a potent tool to eradicate poverty and bring prosperity to the villages.

If Govt helps, India has the means the get past China in hemp production

Today’s India hopes to be a major stakeholder in the world economy. If our government understands the role hemp could play now, we could still emerge as a leader. While China currently produces around 70% of the world’s hemp crop and France cultivates a quarter of it, India has also the means to surpass these countries.

Fertile slopes of Uttarakhand and Himachal, watered by a multitude of the Himalayan rivers, are no way behind the Chinese lands or of any other country. Can we afford to pull back and let China take the lead on India on yet another field? It happened in manufacturing, now we just can’t allow it.

We shouldn’t forget the fact that hemp is a native plant of the Himalayas. Generally, you won’t require any seeds as hemp will grow on its own. The needless ban of hemp for a long period, put under the false impression created by the cotton lobby, deprived the farmers of benefitting from this super crop. It is good that ban on the industrial ban was lifted. However, we need to work actively to push the cultivation of hemp and related products.

Wrong policies ended up in our failure in eradicating poverty

There are few countries in the world that have an ideal ground such as the Himalayan slopes for producing hemp. Irrigated with the pure waters of the Himalayan rivers like the Ganga, hemp was an impeccable quality that can be produced. Can we let slip such a fantastic opportunity from our hands to become the world leader? We have already lost the chance to become the destination for manufacturers. In textiles, our small neighbor such as Bangladesh is doing better than us. China is already much ahead of us when it comes to helping and we can’t allow them to increase this gap.

Since independence, governments in India have been working to propelling the poor out of their poverty. However, we have not been successful in meeting this goal because of the wrong policies. The stress has been on issuing one-time grants or loan waivers. Sure, it provides immediate relief to the farmers. However, they won’t be able to earn on themselves in a sustainable manner unless they learn the skills and get markets for their products.

How our work on the ground has helped to develop some unique insights

Hemp Foundation has been working on the grounds for several years now. Our volunteers are working with villagers in the remote areas of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, reminding them of their ancestral knowledge regarding the cultivation of hemp.  And it is a fact, surprising but true!

The forefathers of these poor village people were well aware of multiple uses of hemp.

This plant was something they had seen growing naturally around them. It was a weed, as natural as any other plant. Often, hemp grew on itself in their fields and they used it in their ways – within their homes and making products out of it. Hemp helped in making the villages self-dependent.

Unfortunately, hemp was banned under a false narrative of cotton growers, giving a huge blow to the local economy. Though the ban has been lifted now, people are still facing a string of problems at the ground level.

Problems at the ground Government needs to be aware of

The foremost problem is – the people representing the Government at the ground, read cops, excise officers, are generally unaware of what is allowed and what not. Often, even the farmers who have cultivated hemp well within the permissible limit of THC also end up facing harassment.

The Government of Uttarakhand has mandated hemp should have a Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, which is not more than 0.3%. Lack of proper infrastructure such as enough labs to test the crop leads to claims and counter-claims between the authorities and farmers. There have been cases when the standing crop of the farmers was burned just on suspicion.

People implementing the law needed to be trained in some basic stuff. For instance, THC, the component in Cannabis causing intoxication, is much lesser in industrial hemp as compared to the one used for recreational purposes. In industrial hemp, international law requires the THC content to be less than 0.3% by dry weight or less. For medical cannabis, the THC percentage may more than 3%. In the plant used for recreational purposes, the percentage of THC would go upwards of 10%.

Cannabis has two major sub-species – Indica and Sativa. The Indica variant of hemp has a higher presence of THC while Sativa is used for medicinal purposes. Sativa cannot be used for recreational means it has a very low THC.

Legal framework to grow medical-grade cannabis

While the Government has allowed the cultivation of industrial-level hemp, growing medical-grade cannabis hasn’t yet got the nod. Research institutes need to be given licenses for cultivating various varieties of hemp and investigate their application. Standardized cultivation of hemp needs to be attained for these objectives. This should be followed by the legal distribution of the plant.

Granting licenses of medical-grade cannabis will take things to a completely different level. We will be able to know precisely the medical uses of the different strains of cannabis. This will help us develop a database of the medical benefits of cannabis. In the West, several studies have demonstrated how the medicinal effects of cannabis can help treat conditions like chronic panic, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and various side effects of chemotherapy.

Proper research will help establish how this plant, which has officially abhorred, for so many years could provide an alternative type of medicine, not just for adults but even for children.

Government needs to facilitate legal and infrastructural support for hemp production

For centuries, hemp cultivation had been a way of life in the vast tracts of land in the Himalayan hills. The ban, which was totally uncalled for, prevented the farmers from living a life they had always been. Adequate legal and infrastructural support will enable farmers to gain from fair prices. This will also provide them safety from black-market transactions. All the money which is currently moving into the black economy can be transformed into taxable revenue without imposing additional burden on taxpayers.

Cultivation of hemp under the legal mandate will promote the exports of hemp-induced products, opening up another revenue stream for the Government. Hemp-related products are in high demand off-shore and without proper support from the authorities, we cannot match this demand, depriving poor farmers of the income they could have otherwise gained.

Governments across India need to act briskly and boldly, recognize the immense industrial and medicinal value of the hemp plant, and provide legal and infrastructural support.

Himachal Pradesh is tailor-made land for cultivating medicinal hemp. There are several regions suitable for cultivating hemp in Himachal Pradesh. In Kullu, these include Banjar Valley, Saini Valley, Tosh-kutla regions, Malana and Manikaran. In the Mandi district, suitable regions include Gada Goshaini (Siraj Region) and Chauhar Bali Chowki  (Thachi and Didier  Jhamach). All condition needed for producing THC is here – dewy conditions, nitrogen-rich soil, and limited but the direct sun.

The Himalayas provide the precise climatic and soil conditions needed for cultivating hemp of the highest quality. With the right policy on the part of the Government, India can become the leader in hemp production. We can’t keep dragging our feet and let other countries take the leadership position.

Government can actively use hemp for eliminating poverty in the region

Hemp can be a potent tool in hand for eradicating poverty. All we need to do is to train the locals in making various products from hemp and connect them to the world economy. Hemp products have a lot of demand across the world and the products made in the Indian villages are sure to find takers across the world, particularly in America and Europe.

Hemp can be used for making high-end products, right from apparel to bed sheets and pillows. When it comes to durability, products made of hemp are considerably ahead of the stuff made of other fabrics. As for comfort, hemp fabric can be as skin-friendly and easy to wear as cotton or silk. Yeah, hemp is a bit abrasive in its raw form but technology is now advanced enough to give it the desired feel post-processing.

This story is not just true for apparel but for various products related to hemp. The added advantage of hemp is no part of the plant goes unused. This feature of hemp enhances the economic advantage of putting your resources in its cultivation. Skills in hemp cultivation and processing will enable the countrymen to make money in a sustainable manner.

Hemp can help generate employment

By promoting the production of hemp, the government can boost the economy tremendously and generate jobs in the remotest corners of the country. While setting up factories helps a few hundred people get a job, hemp cultivation can help people get employment at a much larger scale. The best part of the whole thing is – the people were getting employment right into their villages. Without shifting their roots, they were getting the ability to sustain themselves. They were not dependent on the opening and closure of a factory for their livelihood. Rather, they were tilling their own fields or making their own products, which was economic independence in the real sense.

How a hemp-induced economy will sync with the Gandhian line of thought

Making our villages economically self-dependent will be in line with Gandhian thinking. We have always talked about the Mahatma but rarely have we tried to implement the policies that would make his dream come true.

The father of our nation had immense belief in a self-reliant village economy. A critic of the western system of life, he advocated an economy that villages would be able to earn their livelihood themselves. He dreamt of the villages which were able to meet their needs on themselves and use the surplus products to make stuff needed at other places in exchange for goods they themselves were not producing.

Gandhi was not in favor of capitalism. He felt that capitalism would create ‘needs’ that were not actually required and also make more people poor. In his opinion, two basic essentials for life – education and employment – could be provided in the village itself. With both these needs met in the village itself, the villagers had few reasons to venture out. He strongly favored village industries, particularly handicrafts.

A hemp-based economy provides us the opportunity to fulfill the Gandhian dream, which we have been unable to do so many years after independence.

Blind execution of foreign thoughts and products can be self-hitting

Unfounded trust in foreign theories and products has always resulted in harm. Have we forgotten the huge mistakes of the Jersey cow and Lantana? These were introduced by the authorities in India in the hope of triggering a turnaround in our agrarian economy. The outcome was the direct opposite of what was envisioned without careful thought.

Our government will do well to take a leaf out of these adverse experiences.

The Jersey blunder

Karnataka thought they could leave behind all other states in milk production if they imported the famous Jersey cows. However, the decision was not taken without enough study, and it was an abject failure.

We failed to take into account that Jersey cows belonged to a frigid region. Indian climate was generally unsuitable for these cows. There were no bulls in India as well and the only available option to impregnate the cows was AI. It was quite expensive, however, and increased the costs incurred by the farmers.

Another blunder the program coordinator is to try cross-breeding with the native cattle population. The cattle progeny had exotic blood and were susceptible to diseases. The cross-bred cattle were also unable to conceive.

The Lantana saga

Lantana Camara is a tropical American shrub, which is a visually impressive shrub and few Indians brought it to Indian to make their gardens better. The shrub founds its way to forests. It hybridized with its multiple varieties, intertwining with the native plants, occupying their space, and making them struggle for resources. Their presence also altered the nutrient cycle in the soil. Animals coming into contact with this species suffer from allergies to their muzzles. Worse, they may severely fall ill or even die.

It is alarming to note that lantana has spread over 154,000 sq. km forests. This amounts to more than 40% by area in the tiger reserves of India. Affected forests include areas in Southern Western Ghats, fragmented deciduous forests of Central India, and Shivalik Hills. The Forest department has to spend considerable resources for eradicating this weed.

Using imported genetic hemp seeds will be harakiri

Some people are advocating the usage of genetic hemp seeds in India, claiming that it will boost production. However, this argument is far from reality. Genetic seeds are not in sync with the Indian soil ecosystem. The Himalayan ecosystem, in particular, will suffer huge damage. Getting these seeds into India will be like falling prey to the designs of selfish multinationals. When we have hemp as good as the Himalayan ones, why on Earth do we need to get these genetic seeds.

Often, these campaigns are promoted by people with vested interests. We need to keep in mind that it will be like shooting ourselves on foot.

Contrary to native seeds which you get just in your fields, a packet of genetic hemp seeds comes at a cost. Worse, you can’t use the seeds from your crop.

Beware of corporate-sponsored propaganda

Corporates have a single self-serving goal – to earn as much profit as they can. This may sound insidious to some but unfortunately, the idea has crept into the management of most business organizations in the last few decades.

Now, we cannot declare the idea dirty right away. A business won’t be able to exist if it fails to earn profits. What is really bad is not to earn profits but the willingness to steep low to any extent to make profits. There are companies that won’t bat an eyelid before incinerating a forest to make way for their factory or test their drugs on poor humans without bothering about their repercussions.

All this clamor regarding the turnaround genetic seeds and other foreign stuff will bring is just tall talks. The truth is – they are only concerned about making money on our cost.

Corporates have no qualms enslaving people. Making money is generally their sole objective and most of them will have no hesitation extorting people to meet this end. Look around and you will find several conglomerates across the world, working day in and night out to fill their coffers, without bothering a bit about the natives and environment.

The pulp and paper industry contributes in a big way to the issues of deforestation which is threatening to make our planet a hard place to live in. The incessant cutting of trees has endangered the life of some of these species.

Most of the cutting is done by organized companies in a mechanized way without a whiff of worry about the heavy damage they are inflicting on the environment without bothering a bit about the environment we all live and breathe in. Hemp paper could help reverse the process of destruction but it has been deliberately set-aside.

We should not fall to the façade created by the likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates. The philanthropic persona they demonstrate is only for public consumption. Dig a bit deeper and you will be probably surprised to find out their real, selfish self. Their dharma has been to make money at any cost. With their policies, they have been drawing resources and talent from the developing world and filling their own coffers.

Role of government in thwarting vicious designs of corporates

Expecting corporates to compromise profits to meet their social obligations will probably be too much. However, this is something the government has to move in. If making profits is what the corporates exist for, protecting society and land from the threats and ensuring their sustenance is what the governments exist for. Though a section of economists is advising the state these days to get out of their social obligations and leave things for the private sector, the governments cannot absolve their hands of their responsibility.

With the very planet we all live on going to dogs, the people are looking towards the governments to put up an infrastructure which is able to sustain the pressure for a long time to come. This is the time for the governments to take the lead and promote the products which can play a role in making the earth a better place for the generations to come.

Time to chuck tendency to any anglicised word or concept

For how long will we keep attaching a high value to anything which has been approved by the West. Why do most of us only give value to the Ramayan or the Mahabharata only when they become the Ramayana or the Mahabharata? Yog was not given the importance it deserved as long as it did not become Yoga. Even when it comes to stuff like test-tube babies, there are examples in our structures that our ancestors knew about these techniques. What I want to say is that we tend not to attach the due importance unless something gets anglicized.

Where does this feeling of low esteem emanate from? When will we realize that nature has chosen us to bestow with some of the best assets? There are few countries with as diverse a landscape such as desert, forest, coast, hills, and plains. Ours is a country bordered by the might Himalayas on one side and the vast Indian Ocean on the other.

This is a country with rich traditions rooted in centuries. Go to American and you will find even the buildings a couple of centuries-old are termed to be historical. Compare it with a country like India where there are structures thousands of years old. There are traditions with their roots going to 5,000 years or more. Even the extensive-time period or the influence of external civilizations hasn’t weakened the impact of these traditions.

For instance, there is the Kumbh where millions of people gather with a lot of devotion every year. This is something western pundits feel amazed at. What brings such a large crowd back at regular intervals to these places? There are customs that have their appearance and essence for thousands of years.

Government needs to recognize hemp is something rooted in Indian traditions

Hemp is also something deeply rooted in Indian traditions. Can you imagine a Shiva not consuming hemp i.e. bhang? Go to places of religious importance and you will find hermits taking the chilam. Aren’t these things allowed under the name of protecting our religious traditions? Why doesn’t the same argument hold value when it comes to giving hemp legal protection?

If we keep despising hemp in the name of protecting our people from intoxication, we will only harm our own interests. We simply can’t let our competitors like China keep increasing the distance in such a manner that it becomes practically impossible for us to close in. We have already been late in restructuring our economy to bring back manufacturing. We have let textiles slip to Bangladesh? Are we in a position to repeat this story with hemp?

Will we realize the value of hemp only after it returns from the West as ‘hemp? These days, when the call of atmanirbhar (self-reliant) India is reverberating all across the country, hemp can play a big part in ensuring self-reliance in the remote villages of our hinterland, bringing people back to the villages that have been abandoned and ensuring for them a prosperous, fulfilling life. It can revive our valuable handloom industry which has been under immense pressure recently.

Closing thoughts

Since independence, our governments have been working to eradicate poverty. Yet, this hasn’t yet been achieved. A part of the failure can be attributed to wrong policies, particularly abandoning the system of self-reliant villages and native crops like hemp, and the imposition of foreign ideas, without taking into account the local facts.

Hemp, as a plant rooted in Indian traditions and with multiple uses, can help farmers in remote corners of India connect with the world economy and benefit from it. Active support to the hemp-induced economy on the part of the government can help trigger economic prosperity and make poverty a thing of the past. Proper legal and infrastructural support will help create the ground to produce and sell products made of hemp and get out of the poverty line.

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