On 16th June 2016, Parliament resolved that government should legalise the growing and usage of industrial hemp, both at policy and legislative levels.
‘Industrial hemp must be recognized, appropriately, as an agricultural crop, for industrial purposes distinct from other cannabis varieties.’-Speaker of the National Assembly, Rt. Hon. Richard Msowoya
This news was received with excitement. Especially, within the community of those who trade and partake the green herb. They were Singing Marlon’s Ashley-Ganja Farmer. Until when they heard that industrial hemp is different from Marijuana. Marijuana makes you get high, but industrial hemp if smoked can only produce a massive headache. Industrial hemp does not make one high.
Experience from countries that have legalised the growing of industrial hemp shows that this did not affect the enforcement of marijuana laws. 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 paper, textiles, and cordage. Industrial hemp 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 hemp.
The multiple uses that industrial hemp can be put into presents a tremendous opportunity for countries like Malawi to invest in growing and use of industrial hemp. How Malawi industrial hemp will fare on the global market when it is competing with Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, and other 20 more countries is a question that needs to be asked.
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 address the effects of climate change. Industrial hemp reduces deforestation, lowers carbon emissions and air pollution, and enriches the soil. Fabrics made of hemp do not have any chemical residue and is, therefore, safer for consumers. Hemp products can be recycled, reused and are 100% biodegradable.
Hemp provides an alternative source of clean energy in fuel, paper and construction sectors.
It is clear that if properly harnessed; then industrial hemp might help improve the economy of Malawi. Who are the potential winners and losers in this industrial hemp adventure?
If we are to go by experience, one issue that has been contentious has been the monopoly of multinational corporations that have monopolised the seed market in Malawi. The companies have both the capacity and expertise to produce different seed varieties depending on market demand. This has naturally affected local breeding systems which also depends on the multinational seed companies to produce seeds. Eventually, the production and sales of seed varieties benefit foreign companies. What strategies then will be employed with the industrial hemp to ensure that local breeding systems are strengthened to keep the income in Malawi?
Who gets to grow industrial hemp and sets the buying and selling price of industrial hemp? Again, going by the Tobacco experience in Malawi, one issue has been the tendency of buyers setting prices that end up ripping farmers off. Every year, Tobacco farmers have ended up complaining about the same problem. If not properly managed, the misery might be transferred from Barley to industrial hemp.
The general perception is that industrial hemp is the answer to many economic problems in different countries. There is a likelihood that countries like Malawi, will allocate more resources to growing industrial hemp. Efforts that if not properly managed might end up creating a single crop mentality which has been a problem in Malawi. It is Barley now, and might be Industrial hemp tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with investing heavily in industrial hemp. However, there is also need to consider giving similar attention, to various cash crops that can be grown in Malawi, and have 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/crops that are equally important and valuable as others. We as a country have potential in industrial hemp, tobacco, tea and all other crops at the global market.
- Gloria is the Dowa District Coordinator for Network for Youth Development (NfYD). Chimwemwe Manyozo is an MA Development Candidate at University of Sussex in Brighton, UK.