There are several projects underway in South Africa to research the viability of industrial hemp.
The Agricultural Research Council has been running trials for several years in order to identify varieties that will grow well in the South African climate, mostly using cultivars from Europe. The Department of Agriculture has recognised hemp as an agricultural crop, but legally there is still no distinction between dagga and industrial hemp.
The Department of Health still controls the process of issuing research permits, which involves applying for a permit to possess a narcotic drug. Thus far there are no commercial hemp farms in South Africa.
Hemporium’s farming partner, Rapula Farming, has been planting hemp for the last 3 years as part of a Commercial Incubation Research Trial permitted by the Department of Health and coordinated by Dr Thandeka Kunene of House of Hemp. The trials have been important in learning how to reach economies of scale, evaluating different varieties and learning how to grow iHemp as an agricultural crop. The trial plots are 2 Hectare each in size.
In 2014 we released this video by Intombi Films on the results and aims of the trials:
There are close to 40 countries in the world that have legitimised industrial hemp, including some that have never stopped growing it. These include Canada, The United Kingdom, France, China, Germany and Hungary.
In both the Western and Eastern Cape especially, there are efforts being made to get legislation amended in order to create a hemp industry. Sectors that have been identified as focal points for South Africa are:
- Agri-fibres for car parts (dashboards, door panels etc.)
- Eco-friendly paper
- Natural cement, bricks and insulation for housing
- Animal bedding
- Nutrition from the essential fatty-acid rich seeds
Job creation will be a natural spin-off from the introduction of this new industry. In essence, hemp could help alleviate three of South Africa’s most pressing issues:
- Job creation
The difference between industrial hemp & marijuana
Typically the industrial varieties have less that 1% THC(tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compund found in marijuana), while smoking-grade cannabis has anything from 5 to 25%. Smoking industrial hemp will give you nothing more than a headache.
CBD vs THC
Marijuana is high in THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid, and low in Cannabidiol (CBD) which has been shown to have anti-psychotic effects. Hemp is CBD dominant, and as CBD counteracts the effects of THC, this is another reason why you can’t get high from hemp.
It is easy to see just by looking at a field what the intended use of the crop is.
If it is being cultivated for seed, there will be more space between plants leading to more flowers, but there will also be male plants in the field order to pollinate the female flowers. This will produce flowers full of high-protein and EFA-rich seeds at harvest time.
If it is being grown for fibre, there are over 200 plants per square metre. This forces the plants to compete to for sunlight and grow straight up, often up to 3 or 4 metres high in 4 months. This will produce the desired long, strong fibres in the stalk.
If it is being grown for its psychoactive value, the plants are well spaced out and generally kept to a shorter shrub shape, with many flowers. All males would be eradicated from the field to prevent seeds, as THC production slows down once the flowers have been pollinated, and smokers do not want seeds in their cannabis.
Conclusion (or is it just the beginning….?)
Industrial hemp has a huge amount to offer South Africa. We know the plant will thrive in our climate, and we have the potential to become a world leader in this industry. With the correct implementation and regulations, a hemp industry will help address economic, environmental and social issues. Alone, hemp is not the solution to all the planets ills, but is rather part of a growing trend, towards sustainable responsible living that could ultimately lead to a reverse in global warming and a greener, healthier planet.