On June 16 2016, Parliament resolved that government should legalise the growing and use of industrial hemp both at policy and legislative levels.
This news was received with excitement, especially within the community of those who trade and smoke Indian hemp (chamba) or marijuana. They sang Marlon Ashley’s Ganja farmer until when they heard that industrial hemp is far different from marijuana.
Marijuana gets you high, industrial hemp if smoked can only produce a massive headache. It does not make one feel high.
Experience from countries that have legalised industrial hemp shows that it did not affect enforcement of laws against use of marijuana; of course, they have to deal with general misconception.
According to Forbes, industrial hemp is a renewable resource which has been used for various industrial applications, including making paper, textiles and cordage.
It has also been used in health foods, organic body care, clothing, construction materials, biofuels, plastic composites and more. It has been argued that more than 25 000 products can be made from industrial hemp.
The multiple use industrial hemp boasts presents a tremendous opportunity for countries like Malawi to invest in its growing and use. We just need to ask how Malawi’s produce will fare on the global market against that from Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Spain and 20 more countries.
Industrial hemp is both the present and the future. With the evident effects of climate change and theories of planet boundaries, industrial hemp provides an alternative to failing cash crops as a result of climate change.
It reduces deforestation by providing biofuel, lowers carbon emissions and air pollution and enriches the soil.
Fabric made from hemp do not have chemical residue and is, therefore, safer for consumers. Hemp products can be recycled and are 100 percent biodegradable. If properly harnessed, industrial hemp will undoubtedly improve Malawi’s economy.
But who are the winners and losers in the industrial hemp adventure?
If we are to go by experience, one contentious issue has been the monopoly of multinational corporations controlling the local seed market. The companies have both capacity and expertise to produce different seed varieties based on market demand.
This has naturally affected local breeding systems which also depend on the multinational seed companies to produce seeds. Eventually, the production and sale of industrial hemp seed varieties benefit foreign companies.
What strategies will, thus, be employed to ensure that local breeding systems are strengthened? Who gets to grow industrial hemp and who sets its buying and selling price?
Again, going by the tobacco experience, one issue has been the tendency of buyers setting prices that end up ripping farmers off.
The general perception is that industrial hemp is the answer to many economic problems in different countries. There is likelihood that countries like Malawi will allocate more resources to growing industrial hemp. Thus, we might end up creating a single-crop mentality.
As such, while considering investment in industrial hemp, there is need to consider giving similar attention to various cash crops with a ready global market.
Let us be careful with the choices we make now so as not to affect the future. Let us avoid putting all our eggs in one basket, but rather focus on other things or crops that are equally important and valuable as others.
As a country, we have potential in industrial hemp, tobacco, tea and a number of other crops with a ready global market.