Hemp cultivation in India becoming legal, through startups like Boheco. They are making hemp fabric, seed oil, hempcrete.

Trends Hemp, the Oldest Known Fibre, Making a Comeback in India as the ‘New’ Miracle Crop

We know what you’re thinking. But hemp isn’t marijuana, though it’s a whole lot you probably didn’t know about.

by Amish Behl

Over 25,000 uses. More eco-friendly than cotton with superior strength. Grown and used for 10,000 years. First fibre, first paper, first canvas. The word canvas itself. Hemp makes its case in a world that’s yearning for things more natural and organic. India, too, is joining the chorus.

In a nutshell

Hemp is the OG miracle crop that went out of favour in the 20th century. But with all that it has to offer once you separate it from the controversial marijuana, you’re left wondering how the prohibition makes any sense. 

It’s good to know that things are changing and hemp is starting to find its place again. Hemp fabrics are the easiest way to find out cannabis sativa won’t get you high and it can be a start to bonding with this crop again.

Let’s find out what’s happening in India in this regard and how you can get your hands on some.

Boheco Sativa Hemp Shirt Yellow

100% hemp shirt from B Label (Boheco)

Elephant in the room — Weeding out the cannabis stigma

Let’s spoil the party upfront. Hemp (cannabis sativa) and marijuana (cannabis indica) are two very different species of the cannabis plant. They are not the same and hemp does not get you high. This, of course, comes with a don’t-try-it-at-home warning. 

The villain in question is the psychoactive THC (Tetrahyrdrocannabinol) – that gets users high. It is usually 3% or higher in marijuana and under 0.3% in hemp. Which means hemp generally isn’t psychoactive. 

There are other characteristic differences in growing conditions, how high it grows, among others, but since we aren’t the ones farming, let’s just go with hemp doesn’t get you high.

Cannabis leaf hemp

The appeal of an eco-friendly, historical crop that does it all

There are two key reasons that make hemp kind of irresistible if we look at it with an eye on the future. One, literally every part of the plant is useful — fibre, stalk, seed, flower, everything — and lends itself to applications as diverse as clothing, construction, paper, composites, health foods, body care and biofuel. Two, it is really environment-friendly. No pesticides, consumes far less water than cotton, can be harvested in 3 months and returns nutrients into the soil after harvest.

The oldest relic ever found, going back to 8000 BC, was hemp fabric in Mesopotamia (current day Turkey)

I have listed neither all of its uses nor its eco credentials. But if I were to illustrate, it is useful to know the following about hemp:

  • Requires just 40% of the ecological footprint and 20% water as compared to cotton, as per a Stockholm Environment Institute study
  • Produces the strongest, most durable natural fibre on earth
  • High in essential fatty acids and amino acids (its seeds can be consumed)
  • Hemp paper has the potential to reduce deforestation as an acre of hemp will produce as much pulp for paper as 4 acres of trees over a 20 year period
  • Top producer of biomass per acre in the world

Hemp has a long history in India as well as in the western world. Its use as food, fuel, fibre and medicine has been well documented. In fact, the oldest relic ever found that traces back to 8000 BC was hemp fabric found in Mesopotamia (current day Turkey).

As much as the possibilities are endless, the restrictions are puzzling. There is really not much to the story apart from hemp being incorrectly and unjustly clubbed with marijuana, by means of government regulations and drug paranoia. There are many conspiracy theories out there that talk about the forces behind how all this came to be. That being said, the revival it is seeing is great and gives hope in some way of a breakthrough for the world at large.

Hemp seeds which have various uses - Adoption of hemp in India is growing due to startups like BE Hemp and Boheco

What’s happening with hemp cultivation in India

While psychoactive cannabis is illegal in India, hemp can be grown by obtaining a license from the State government. After a long period of tentativeness regarding procedures for getting such a license, especially given the taboo surrounding it, Uttarakhand granted the first license for commercial cultivation of hemp earlier this year.

This must be a considered a landmark step that drives conversation forward on the hemp revolution.

Any mention of hemp in India wouldn’t be complete without talking about Bombay Hemp Company (Boheco), founded in 2013 founded by 7 college friends who set out to make some big changes.

They are actively involved with the Government and other stakeholders to standardise, commercialise and industrialise hemp cultivation in India by working towards building a seed bank.

Indian hemp startups

While the evolution of hemp policy with the Government takes its course, Boheco are getting more and more active in hemp clothing to get people used to the idea of having hemp as a part of their daily lives.

Boheco has a fashion brand called B Label that sells hemp clothing for men and women. They also have a vertical called the Hemp Fabric Lab that supplies fabrics to businesses that want to start using hemp to make different products.

There are more players in the space too. Namrata Hemp Co has plans similar to Boheco in hemp R&D, cultivation and sales. While B. E. Hemp makes hemp clothing and accessories including lamps, notebooks, wallets and cosmetics. Arture, that primarily does cork products, also uses hemp for some its accessories. Others like Hempster and HempCann have a range of cannabis based body care and medicinal products. Most raw materials are currently imported from overseas by these brands, with China and Italy being prominent suppliers.

Vegan hemp tote bag Arture - Sustainable fashion using eco-friendly materials from indie brand in India

Hemp tote bag from Arture (Photo Courtesy: Arture)

Getting my first articles of hemp clothing

I figured the easiest way to experience hemp would be to buy an item of clothing made using it. Apart from the ecological advantages over cotton I wrote about earlier, there were some differences in characteristics as well, such as it being stronger with slower breakdown of fibres over time, while getting softer with age. It also has anti-bacterial properties and is more UV resistant. These things made the purchase decision easy, while the prospect of getting something hemp-made was quite exciting in itself. So I got myself a few things from Boheco’s catalogue.

Read more thoughts here on how hemp clothing from B Label / Boheco fared in real life.

Read a review of hemp handloom scarves from B Label / Boheco here.

Summing up

For a crop that can do so much, it’s a pity we are deprived of it because of the marijuana taint. So this global hemp revival or revolution feels awesome. It shows that mindsets are changing and governments are coming around to it as well.

I speak from experience that using hemp felt fun and empowering and I’d urge you to try it too. You can start making a difference by overcoming the mental resistance you may have and voting with your wallet. We ought to have faith in a system that worked effectively for thousands of years, providing food and clothing to many a people. More so because there is research to show the old system (i.e. hemp) offers many advantages over inventions and developments that came after it.

As an outsider, increasing the use of hemp in our lives feels like a bit of a no-brainer. So I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for this movement to gather more steam.

Are you a hemp user too, or waiting to become one? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this story interesting or useful, please spread the goodness by sharing it!

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