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UK advises Malawi to consider hemp

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As Malawi struggles to find alternatives to tobacco as the country’s main foreign exchange earner, British High Commissioner to Malawi Michael Nevin has asked the country to consider production of Indian hemp for commercial production.

In a write up made available to The Daily Times yesterday, Nevin says Malawian policy makers and the public should consider whether industrial hemp has the potential to be a Malawi growth crop.

He says, however, the hemp being suggested is not the illegal cannabis variety known in Malawi as “marijuana”, “chamba” or “Malawi gold” but an industrial variety which is potentially economically viable.

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“The industrial variety of hemp cannot practically induce the effects seen in the other marijuana variety,” said Nevin.

He said Malawi’s focus should be on whether Malawi can make an economic success of the industrial type of hemp which came into existence thousands of years ago and was sought after for its strong fibres.

Nevin said before mechanisation, the British Navy relied on Hemp Bast fibre for its sails, ropes and uniforms.

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Apart from clothing, the help is also a nutritious food ingredient and can be good for improving soil conditions. Its stems are used for making fibre building materials and it also has a carbon neutral material.

He estimates the hemp food global market to be US$300 million with projections putting it at US$1 billion by 2020.

“Wars were even waged over hemp as it was such an important commodity. With the emergence of cheaper synthetic materials and the use of fossil fuels, natural plant material like hemp became obsolete and it was gradually – and mistakenly – lumped in to the same category as its cousin, marijuana,” explains Nevin.

He says, however, that industrial hemp is now undergoing revival and that it is now being grown in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe where 15,000 hectares were cultivated in 2014.

“In the UK, it is one of the main fibre crops grown and its production ties in with sustainable farming policies. It is used in the textiles, paper making and construction industries. And part of the bio composites are now being used in car frames. If you are driving a car, it probably has industrial hemp in it. You may even have a t-shirt, bag or health drink that contains hemp,” says Nevin.

He says licensing systems have been used to regulate its production to make sure that it is not confused with illegal cannabis.

“I hope outlining the UK experience helps the debate to move on to how Malawi could also explore the crop’s potential. The industrial and marijuana varieties are different, with only one offering a legitimate market for Malawi to exploit,” says Nevin.

As in the UK, Nevin says Malawi should help create conditions for those who want to grow industrial hemp as a potential lucrative crop, with light regulation as necessary.

“There are Malawi-based companies, such as Invegrow, that are interested in developing the crop to Malawi’s economic advantage. There may be other factors to consider now that the marijuana connection can be set aside. But a more objective approach could open the way for Malawi to join an estimated 36 other countries in becoming an industrial hemp producer,” suggests Nevin.

Minister of Agriculture Allan Chiyembekeza said government was aware of what hemp has and welcomes other views on the matter.

“Even the High Commissioner is welcome to come and discuss with us on this issue,” said Chiyembekeza.

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