The very first things which populate our mind by the word Industrial Hemp are intoxication, Ganja, illegal activities etc. But it is wrong to compare hemp with Ganja or drugs. Hemp is a plant that does not have intoxicating effects. Hemp is a “Trillion Dollar Miracle Crop” that produces over 25,000 products spread across 9 sectors that include agriculture, textiles, personal care, paper, construction material, furniture, automotive, food and beverages and recycling. Under the NDPS Act 1985, State Governments have the right to allow the cultivation of industrial hemp. Recognizing these miraculous characteristics of hemp, Uttarakhand Government is giving license to cultivate industrial hemp in the state.
Hemp has originated from India itself. World’s best hemp is found in the Shivalik region. From India, Hemp has reached many other regions of the world such as Middle East, Africa, North America and South America. Hemp has been used in India since 1000 B.C. In the Atharva Veda, hemp is mentioned as one of the 5 spiritual plants. Hemp is also known as Vijaya and Indrasana in Vedic literature. Hemp stalks are put into the yajna to keep away the evil forces. Indian mythology also has mention of hemp. During Samudramanthan, Lord Shiva was given hemp (Bhaang) to reduce the effect of the poison consumed by him.
Getting attracted by these characteristics of hemp, 71-year-old Vijay Lakshmi Awasthi of Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh) took the initiative to build a startup on it. She was supported in the initiative by 45-year-old Neeti Mishra from Mau (Uttar Pradesh) and Shruti Singhania, 33 years old, from Raipur (Chhattisgarh). The three women together established a company named Sharv Hemp Indus Ventures Private Limited in Uttarakhand this year and obtained a license to cultivate industrial hemp on 5 acres of land in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. In August 2020, this unique startup on hemp owned entirely by women entrepreneurs was recognized by DPIIT, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India.
Vijay Lakshmi Awasthi has done M. Sc. in Botany and is a retired Principal of Govindraj Higher Secondary School, Jabalpur. She was involved in academic activities from 1970 to 2014. According to her, she came to know about the medicinal properties of hemp when she was struggling with arthritis. This plant is a boon for patients with cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other psychiatric and incurable diseases. The CBD oil extracted from this is very effective in treating these diseases. Hemp seed oil, hemp protein, hemp butter, hemp hearts and other nutraceutical products are prepared from its seeds. She said that the startup will soon start making such products.
Niti Mishra’s family is in the business of textiles. Because of this, she has a good knowledge of the properties of hemp fibers. Mrs. Mishra said that hemp fiber has great ability to bear stress. It also has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Masks made of hemp fibers can be extremely useful to people during the Covid 19 pandemic and the startup will process hemp fibers and make yarn and fabric so that they can be used to make hemp clothes.
Shruti Singhania, who has a Diploma in Interior Designing, is aware of the use of hemp in construction materials and furniture. She said that after extracting the fiber from the hemp stalk, herd left out is used to make construction material and furniture; this is very strong. It is also used in making paper. Paper made from hemp does not deteriorate over the years, as well as saves the environment because hemp paper does not require cutting of trees. After making hemp hearts, the residue is used to make hemp bio plastic which is environment friendly.
Vijay Lakshmi Awasthi said that the biggest problem of Uttarakhand today is unemployment and migration. The startup will provide direct employment or self-employment to about 50 families and indirect employment or self-employment to about 100 families by cultivating industrial hemp on 5 acres of land and processing the products made from it. In future this startup wants to increase the cultivated land from 5 acres to 25 acres. The company intends to create an ecosystem to develop all the ancillary industries like hemp cultivation seeds provider, providers of packing materials, transporters, delivery agents, e-commerce companies etc. thereby creating an entire value chain of wealth creation.
She said that the startup’s aim is to bring visibility to the industrial hemp in the national perspective. Today this sector is in a very nascent stage due to which people do not know about the benefits of hemp. To bring visibility to the sector, the startup will create an integrated platform on its website to connect all industrial hemp companies together so that people can get information about products made from hemp and through this the industrial hemp industry can grow as a whole. She said that another speciality of the startup will be that since it will be cultivating industrial hemp on its own, there will be assured availability of raw materials in the processing of products thereby eliminating the dependency on external forces.
She added that the startup is aligned with Prime Minister’s vision of doubling farmers’ income by the year 2022 and the first objective of the startup is National Interest. For this, they are emphasizing on using indigenous seeds with low THC for cultivating hemp so that our biodiversity can be protected and preserved. After this, the priority is economy of the State and the interests of the local people. Then comes the objective to grow the hemp industry as a whole. Interests of the startup – Sharv Hemp Indus Ventures Private Limited comes as the last priority.
Awasthi appreciated Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat for the steps being taken by Uttarakhand government to promote hemp based industry. She said that the Chief Minister wants to increase the income of farmers for which he is working hard. According to her, giving license of hemp cultivation will prove to be a milestone in the economy of Uttarakhand. The startup is working with the Uttarakhand Government to create jobs in Uttarakhand.
Niti Mishra said that at present there is a policy on the cultivation of industrial hemp only in Uttarakhand, but now the time has come for all states to formulate a policy on hemp cultivation and allow it to be cultivated in their respective states, so that the states will get additional revenue through GST, employment and self-employment opportunities will be generated for the people of the State and also the income of farmers will increase. Today USA is the largest importer of hemp-based products. Our country will get foreign exchange by exporting hemp products.
She added that the startup has sent proposals to Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh to allow the cultivation of industrial hemp in tribal, backward and under privileged areas of their respective states thereby generating avenues of employment in their States. According to Mishra, from 5 acres of land and a small processing factory, 50 families will have direct income of about Rs 10,000 per month and the rural economy will grow again.
Shruti Singhania said that at present the hemp industry is facing some challenges like there is no separate HS code of GST for its products. Also, there is no separate Import Export Code. Hemp seed based products come in the category of food items but unlike other foods, they are not recognized by FSSAI. Also, as per the policy of Uttarakhand Government, seeds having THC content less than 0.3% can only be used for cultivation of industrial hemp however it is very difficult to get such seeds in India. The startup has time and again raised its concerns through various means on all these issues before concerned Ministers and Officials of the State and Central Government, including the Prime Minister. We hope that in the best interests of the country, these problems will soon be resolved so that the Indian hemp industry can grow further.