The current breed of entrepreneurs who sell hemp products in India generally find themselves, with a question, from their regular consumers “Will this get me high?” A similar query isn’t part of the psyche when it comes to plant-based products like tea, coffee, seeds, oil, powder etc.
Despite its many uses and manifold sustainability, without the proper knowledge of what hemp is used for, this line of questioning will persist. Hemp is used in food, beverages, food supplements and fabric. 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 to grow industrial hemp. States like Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh are also looking towards legalising the crop.
A lot of startups 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.
Hemp as food is a complete plant-based protein. With the widespread movement called veganism, hemp is being used as one of the best protein substitutes for non-vegetarian products. It is allergen-free and has the perfect ratio of Omega 3 and 6 which is ideal for our health. The pandemic came as an opportunity for these entrepreneurs to market these benefits when people started looking for knowledge regarding food, nutrition, alternative curative methods and therapeutic products that would help with anxiety, pain relief and other effective solutions for the body, mind and soul.
According to the President of the Indian Industrial Hemp Association, Rohit Sharma, the number of registered hemp start-ups has gone up to around 100 in 18 months. Despite the lack of awareness among consumers and farmers, these entrepreneurs predict a bright future for the hemp industry in the coming few years. According to the Industrial Hemp Market Size, Share and Trends Analysis report published in February 2020 by US-based Grand View Research, the market is driven by the growing demand for hemp oil and fibres in the automotive, construction, food and beverage, personal care and textile industries.
India’s connection with hemp extends through mythology, history and religion. It is considered as one of the five sacred plants in the Vedas, and a staple during festivals. In Ayurveda, there are 190 formulations that have medical cannabis as their key ingredient.
The modern-day hemp market is only 30-35 years old despite the presence of hemp on earth for years and ages. As it was banned in the US in 1970, it came into the spotlight 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.
In the 2018 Farm Bill, the US decided to allow hemp cultivation, sale, possession and transfer of hemp-derived products. India too jumped on to the bandwagon and Uttarakhand became the first state to issue a license for hemp cultivation to the Indian Industrial Hemp Association. The plant has a short summer crop cycle and uses half the amount of water as cotton. Every part of the plant can be used for food, paper, animal bedding, textiles, medicines, construction along with a biodegradable alternative to plastic. All this makes it a sustainable crop to cultivate.
One of the major challenges is policies rather than awareness. Marketing of hemp products has been restricted in India by popular social media platforms as the lack of clarity makes them vulnerable, while the honourable Ministry of Ayush and FSSAI are putting all the good work for more clarity. The hemp industry has come a long way and is expecting to go an even longer way in the future making this wonder plant, a great resource for human enterprise.