Why India is losing trillion-dollar Hemp economy

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Why India is losing trillion-dollar Hemp economy

Hemp was considered the first billion-dollar crop back in the 1920s because of its seeds as food and fiber for clothing.

Forwarded to the 2020s, a century later, the possibilities that this plant is offering are beyond our imagination. Also, cultivating hemp has many benefits in agriculture.

In 1930, Britishers banned cannabis, citing its unscientific negative effects, to introduce alcohol to India, which is addictive. Until then, Bhang was legal, and unfortunately, even after 72 years of independence, we are following Britisher’s policy on cannabis, conveniently ignoring cannabis use in Ayurveda. The colonial mindset has still not vanished; the lie that cannabis is a dangerous drug has just made India lose the most valuable and environment-friendly hemp market to other countries.

Hemp, popularly called weed plant, grows across the country, especially in northern Indian states. Unlike any other country, we can produce it all across the country in all seasons. With vast agricultural land and more than 5.5% of barren lands yet to be utilized, India can be a global leader in hemp industry if and only if the policy at the root level is changed.

In 2020, the UN removed cannabis from scheduled drugs, and more importantly, India voted to remove cannabis from UN Single Convention Act on Narcotic Drugs, 1961. Surprisingly, even after over three years, no state other than Uttarakhand allows industrial hemp with <0.3% THC formula, which never works due to our agro-climatic regions.

Post independence, almost 55% of GDP was agriculture-dependent, but only 16.38% in 2020. The main reason is that agriculture is not profitable anymore for the farmers. The green revolution in the 1960s introduced agriculture machinery as well as chemicals. The extensive and unscientific use of these chemicals damaged our rich farming lands, and affected the health of many farmers.

Hemp can play a significant role in reviving these lands due to its phytoremediation properties. The fast-growing plant can reach a height of 12-15 feet in just 90 days, and its roots are deep into the soil. A research study done in 1992 by Russian scientists Ilya Raskin and Vyacheslav Dushenkov established that hemp had successfully accumulated heavy metals like lead and arsenic, cadmium, and German scents in 2001 and confirmed the same. Cultivating hemp in barren and chemically damaged lands can be revived in India. It is possible to achieve the government’s target to convert 50 lacs of barren lands by 2030 by cultivating hemp while also generating income for the farmers and stakeholders.

While cultivating hemp has environmental benefits, it also provides magnificent economic opportunities. Unlike any other plant, which has few benefits and is grown for one produce, every part of hemp has utility in industrial and medical applications. Hemp seeds have high vegan protein and EFAs in the golden ratio; hemp stalks can be an alternative for low-productive and high environment-damaging cotton and paper industries. Leaves and flowers have use in medical applications; Ayurveda has over 260 formulations with Hemp flowers and leaves, and roots can be used as fertilizer for soil and are very effective for arthritic pains.

No wonder hemp has over 25,000 uses and benefits. For ages, hemp fiber has been used as shipping ropes as it is a strong natural fiber and is also resistant to salt-water degradation. Also, hemp can replace existing toxic alternatives. Hemp shives or hurds are great for bioplastics. With fossil fuel-based plastics, a threat to the environment, hemp can replace existing non-degradable plastics. From single-use cutlery to food packaging or replacing wood pulp for paper, hemp shives can be a degradable alternative to non-degradable plastics without compromising on quality and strength.

From food to clothes, fiber composites to carbon sequester bricks, paper to graphene, vegan protein to medicines, hemp is used in many ways and has been scientifically proven. The vegan market size was $22.45 Billion in 2022 and is growing exponentially. Hemp seeds and their by-products are an excellent vegan source of protein and EFAs and have the potential to be top in the vegan charts. Hemp fiber global market size was $7.1 Billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at 37.8% CAGR to reach $26 billion by 2026. The potential of hemp fibers is growing strongly and is disrupting single-use plastics and glass fiber markets.

More than 21 states of the USA, many European countries and, lately, Thailand have legalized medical and recreational hemp. The medical cannabis market is growing at 24.3% CAGR and is expected to grow to $82 Billion by 2027. The global pain management market size is expected to cross $100 billion by the end of this decade; research reports point out that cannabis is much more effective and has low side effects, and can easily replace opioids, which are more dangerous and addictive. Let us not forget the opioid epidemic.

By 2030, the global hemp industry can reach over a trillion dollars, led by medicines, fiber for composites, bricks and paper industries, and FMCG sectors. Is India, with a colonial mindset, just like the 1960s when we lost the semiconductor industry, are we losing the hemp industry to other countries?

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Region: India

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