What is hemp ?
Often regarded as the ‘trillion-dollar crop”, Hemp or more commonly known as industrial hemp is a short, summer crop and uses just about half the amount of water that any other fibre crop like cotton does, makes for a sustainable crop. Every part of the plant can be used, for food (nutrient-dense seeds and oils), medicinal use, fibre, paper, fuel, construction (hempcrete instead of concrete), animal food, bedding, even as a biodegradable alternative to plastic.
Evolution of hemp
Hemp, though not marijuana, is often associated with it. While it originates from the same plant, Cannabis sativa, hemp does not have significant levels of THC, a psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) , the ingredient that gives you a high. In fact, hemp has less than <0.3% of THC; marijuana has anywhere from 10 to 30%.Despite its many uses and manifold sustainability, it’s association with marijuana has been negatively construed by public perception. Yet, though the plant has its origin in the Himalaya and Central Asia, the modern-day cannabis market is only about 30-35 years young.
Cultivation of hemp
Hemp is grown from seed as an annual crop in temperate zones and can reach a height of up to 5 metres (16 feet). Crops grow best in sandy loam with good drainage and require average monthly rainfall of at least 65 mm (2.5 inches) throughout the growing season. Crops cultivated for fibre are densely sowed and produce plants averaging 2–3 metres (6–10 feet) tall with no branching at all.
Controversy about hemp
Way back cannabis was classified as a synthetic drug in the US, which made it illegal in 1970 and later banned it, it came under the scanner in India too. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 bans the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (ganja) but excludes seeds, stalks and leaves. Bhaang is a paste made from the leaves, which has religious and cultural importance in Indian context so it’s not outlawed.
Hemp in Indian Scenario
In India, under section 10 of the Indian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985, the state governments have the power to licence cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes. Hence, Uttarakhand government has become the first state to issue a license for the cultivation of hemp to the Indian Industrial Hemp Association (IIHA) to grow industrial hemp in July 2018. The license was awarded to IIHA to plant Cannabis on 1,000 hectares. The IIHA will also develop a seed bank, aiming to cultivate hemp across 10,000 hectares within five years for textile fibre. Other states like Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh are also looking towards legalising the crop.
Rising trend in hemp industry
The industrial hemp market is projected to surge at a CAGR of 34 percent from $4.6 billion in 2019 to $26.6 billion by 2025. The statistics reveal that hemp-based products hold a promising future in the Indian business ecosystem. At present, only over 30 Indian brands are providing hemp-based products. A lot of start ups in recent years are collaborating with each other to develop a domestic market for innovative products like hempcrete, hemp paper and biofuel. They are also promoting the cultivation of hemp in their regions. One of the major improvements from their efforts has been the creation of awareness among people about the difference between hemp and medical cannabis in the context of its use and abuse.
Uses of Hemp
Hemp as food is a complete plant-based protein and can be rightly called as nature’s powerful nutritious superfood. With the widespread movement called go-vegan, hemp is being used as one of the best protein substitutes for non-vegetarian products. Hemp powder can be used to make rotis, pastas, bread, smoothies. Hemp seed is supposed to be high in omega 3, 6, 9, vitamin B12, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, iron, protein and zinc. It is allergen-free and has the perfect ratio of Omega 3 and 6 which is ideal for our health. During the pandemic, when people started looking for knowledge regarding food, nutrition, and therapeutic products that would help with anxiety, pain relief and other effective solutions for the body and mind, an opportunity for the entrepreneurs to market these benefits emerged.
Industries/Start ups in Hemp
A good number of Indian companies are making hemp and cannabis products these days and the number of Indian companies that are developing and retailing hemp products have grown by leaps and bounds in the past couple of years–on the e-commerce platform, recognizing the versatility of the Cannabis sativa plant and the therapeutic properties of its parts–from seeds to leaves, from roots to resin. practically every part and by product of the plant can be put to use for nutrition and sustenance.
There are over 20 Indian brands listed under ‘hemp’ alone, from the better-known ones like Boheco Life and The Himalayan Hemp Company (THHC) to Conscious Chemist, Bottled Poetry, B label, Fitskinology, Hemis, Hemp House and Health Horizons, right on to Yeti’s Remedy and Qurist. And all these companies are using hemp in fabulously innovative ways in a range of product categories, from hemp chocolates (highly rated products from THHC, sadly unavailable right now) to hemp trail mixes and shakes, as well as non-edible personal care products like body lotions and lip balms. Innovative hemp products like hemp seed oil, hemp seed powder, hemp heart and nubs (Shelled hemp seeds), hemp apparels and hemp personal care products are gaining popularity among the people.
Fortunately, very soon we will see hemp legalised as food and the myths about hemp to dissipate. In the meantime, we have to start educating ourselves about the benefits of hemp, continue supporting hemp farmers and suppliers, and wait for the various qualities of hemp to unfold, once it gets legal.