Industrial Hemp a great opportunity for farmers | Pakistan Today

Industrial Hemp a great opportunity for farmers

  • Agri planners in Pakistan oblivious to the great opportunity

By: Younus Sandeela

The history of Pakistan agriculture is filled with missed opportunities. Be it the case of exploiting the coastline to produce exotics like tiger shrimps or putting Pakistan’s fruits and vegetables on the shelves in the high-end markets, Pakistan has missed one opportunity after the other. Our agriculture policy is reactive and subsidy centric. We have consistently failed to connect our agriculture with business. As a result, we have not seen any innovation in the agriculture sector which, in-spite of huge potential, continues to remain rudimentary and backward.

Industrial hemp or Cannabis Sativa could be the next big opportunity which, if handled tactfully, could change the landscape of Pakistan agriculture and play a significant role in improving economics at the grass root level. However, to be able to benefit from the opportunity it would be critical to understand that Industrial Hemp, though strain of the same genus, is not same plant that is the source of psychoactive drug marijuana. Cannabis Sativa or Industrial Hemp is, in fact, one of the most misunderstood plants ever.

Unless the planners dealing with the agriculture sector in Pakistan act swiftly and intelligently we may end up missing out yet another opportunity to lift our agriculture out of its current state of backwardness. Yes, there is risk that some may misuse the liberalization of hemp cultivation by mixing in the drug-producing cannabis strain and start producing the drugs. But then is it fair to completely eliminate a very useful crop just because we cannot control some criminals? Would we ban grape cultivation if we feared that some people may start using the fruit to produce wine?

One of the oldest crops cultivated by humans, the history of industrial hemp dates back thousands of years when humans cultivated this plant for fibre as well as for its magical Cannabidiol or CBD oil. Even today, CBD oil is recognized for its medicinal value. Like many countries of the world, cultivation of industrial hemp along with all strains of the cannabis family is banned in Pakistan and special approval is needed from the Anti Narcotics Department to grow the plant for research or medicinal purposes. However, many countries of the world have realized that a blanket ban on all strains of cannabis which was initiated by the western countries who were worried about the increasing usage of marijuana as a recreational drug in their societies was not a wise decision.

Banning all strains of cannabis to control marijuana production which came from only one strain with a high level of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was like banning all cars on the roads because some cars carried drugs in them.

Industrial hemp contains only 0.3 percent of Tetrahydrocannabinol. It is scientifically proven that such a small quantity has no psychoactive effect on the user. As against this the strain used to make recreational drugs contains around 5 percent of THC. Additionally, the higher level of cannabidiol in industrial hemp works to actually decrease or even eliminate the psychoactive effects of THC.

Industrial hemp has numerous commercial uses. It is fast regaining its reputation as a reliable source of fibre for cloth making. According to some research it was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fibre 10,000 years ago. Its leaves and flowers are used to extract the valuable cannabidiol oil through the distillation process. Its stem can be used to make hempcrete, an environmentally friendly building material that was effectively used for construction, prior to the plant becoming the victim of mistaken identity. Mixing hemp’s woody core with lime and water can produce natural concrete with high insulating quality– it can retain thermal mass and weighs about one-eighth the regular concrete. Hemp seed is a source of a valuable hemp-seed oil which is also highly valued for its taste, nutritional value and health benefits. The hemp plant is also recognized as the most efficient source for producing paper.

Pakistan’s agro-climatic conditions support the production of industrial hemp. It practically grows wild in Islamabad and the rest of the northern areas. It’s extremely adaptive nature, and the acceptability of varied soil types makes it a potentially big crop in almost all regions of Pakistan. Furthermore, hemp’s water requirements are far less than that of most of our regular crops. Lastly, demand for hemp-derived products is rapidly increasing in the West and other well-paying markets which means huge export potential for products derived from the crop.

Planners in Pakistan government must make efforts to first clear the misunderstanding about it being the same as the marijuana-producing cannabis and then encourage its plantation after making the necessary amendments in the law. Simultaneous efforts would be required to channelize investment into processing of hemp derived products like CBD Oil, hemp-seed oil, hemp fibre and hempcrete.

With 70% of total world production, China leads in hemp cultivation whereas, with about quarter world production, France ranks second. More than 30 countries representing all continents where regular agriculture takes place are currently producing industrial hemp. Many countries that currently do not produce hemp due to legal restrictions are also working towards finding ways to regularize production of industrial hemp.

Unless the planners dealing with the agriculture sector in Pakistan act swiftly and intelligently we may end up missing out yet another opportunity to lift our agriculture out of its current state of backwardness. Yes, there is risk that some may misuse the liberalization of hemp cultivation by mixing in the drug-producing cannabis strain and start producing the drugs. But then is it fair to completely eliminate a very useful crop just because we cannot control some criminals? Would we ban grape cultivation if we feared that some people may start using the fruit to produce wine?

It is about time our agri planners took stock of latest developments at the international stage and prepared for benefiting from the latest trends. At-least a debate must start on possibility of allowing commercial cultivation of industrial hemp in the country.



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