Strict regulations, pertaining to use of Industrial Hemp (iHemp)-known as Cannabis sativa L- in India, are a major roadblock for industry and farming community. iHemp has huge potential to contribute in doubling farmers’ income. BK Jha analyses problems and prospects of the ‘Magic Plant.’
Cannabis has a long history in India, veiled in legends and religion. The earliest mention of cannabis has been found in several Hindu texts including Vedas. According to the Vedas, cannabis was one of five sacred plants and a guardian angel lived in its leaves. The Vedas call cannabis a source of happiness and liberator. Lord Shiva is frequently associated with cannabis, called Bhang in India. According to legend, Shiva wandered into fields after an angry discourse of with his family. Drained from the family conflict and the hot sun, he fell asleep under a leaf plant. When he awoke, his curiosity led him to sample the leaves of the plant. Instantly rejuvenated, Shiva made the plant his favourite food and he became the Lord of Bhang.
Stories go beyond the Hindu and the Holy Herb. is. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp farmers and advocated hemp cultivation for the very survival of the American colonies. In fact, there was a hemp tax on landowners because of its versatility as lantern oil, cooking oil, lubricants, fabric, rope and more. Henry Ford built a car body using hemp and other agricultural resources to demonstrate the contribution farmers could make to American manufacturing.Hemp has been grown for the last 12,000 years for fiber (textiles and paper) and food. Biodegradable plastics and Styrofoam made using hemp oil instead of petroleum derivatives are at the cutting edge of technology.
Present Scenario & Regulations
According to Indian Industrial Hemp Association(IIHA), 55,700 metric tonnes of iHemp are produced around the world each year. China, Russia, and South Korea are the leading hemp-producing nations. They account for 70 percent of the world’s iHemp supply.
“ iHemp has many uses including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food, and fuel. It also runs parallel with the ‘ Green Future’ objectives that are becoming increasingly popular. However, strict regulations and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, commonly referred to as the NDPS Act were roadblocks for development of iHemp sector in India,” says Bijoy Ghosh, Director ( R&D), IIHA.
“ iHemp can be a boon for an economy. On an acre of land, ihemp crop will generate 2/3 times more fibre than a crop of cotton. iHemp fibre is stronger and softer as compared to cotton and will last much longer. Cotton requires a moderate climate and lots of water to grow, on the other hand, ihemp can even endure frost and would flourish with only moderate amounts of water. Moreover, the ihemp crop needs no pesticides or herbicides, it can sustain well with a moderate amount of fertilizer.,” says Rohit Sharma, President, IIHA and Managing Director, Hemp Pharma AMRO.
“iHemp seeds are edible and one can eat them raw, crushed into a meal, as sprouts, in the form of ihemp milk, Chocolates or use it in baking. Fresh ihemp leaves can also be consumed in salads,” says Krishna Gupta, Managing Director, Organic Wellness.
“There are some misconceptions about iHemp. People and policymakers need to be made aware. Seeds of the Cannabis plant are used to extract iHemp oil. However, the iHemp oil does not carry more than 0.3 percent of Tetrahydrocannabinol(THC), the prominent psychoactive compound in Cannabis. iHemp oil has been extracted for many centuries, but it is always in controversy because of its association with the Cannabis species having THC,” he adds.
Organic Wellness, with contract farming, popularised farming of Quinova in the country and farmers’ are getting income several times more than they used to get earlier. The company was experimenting similarly with Hemp farming for the benefits of farmers.
“We are ready with our R&D for iHemp and a range of edible products including Chocolates are ready to enter into the market. We have applied to FSSAI for approval,” says Gupta.
iHemp can prove a viable option to generate more income for farmers. “ I firmly believe that it is high time for the government and the industry to come together to encourage iHemp for the benefit of farmers. The Modi government has implemented several schemes for the advancement of agriculture sector and we are hopeful, iHemp friendly policies and regulations would soon in place,” he adds.
Since ihemp does not contain large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering ingredient found in regular marijuana, ihemp products are legal in most countries, though growing it is still illegal in the United States. One of the most popular of these products is ihemp seeds, which are pleasant-tasting, highly nutritious and produce many health benefits. Moreover, according to a review published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2010, the fatty acids found in ihemp seeds have the ability to boost platelet aggregation and protect against coronary heart disease. It also carries anti-fatigue and immune-boosting properties. iHemp seeds are an excellent source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Though fiber is best-known for its ability to cleanse the colon and help treat constipation, it also helps absorb sugar in the intestinal tract (thereby preventing type 2 diabetes) and encourages the liver to make more bile salts (thereby reducing LDL cholesterol). It is also an excellent source of iron, magnesium and zinc.
The Way Forward
iHemp offers big opportunity of contract farming and large scale export of agro products. Moreover, it is a single rotational crop with multiple products. Given the benefits of iHemp for agriculture sector, the government needs to overcome socio-political pressure from market leaders and investors on the implementation of a Hemp- encouraging policy. Though it is important to check illegal cultivation of cannabis in the country, however legitimate farming should be encouraged with clear regulations. With adequate regulation in place, a market needs to be developed within and outside India.