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Pakistan Missing Out On the Hemp Industry...

War Thunder

Mar 12, 2013
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United Arab Emirates
As the industrial hemp market continues to flourish around the world, one country whose lands are filled with the raw materials to jump on the bandwagon, remains bizarrely distant from this flourishing industry.

Pakistan is a goldmine for hemp. Despite thousands of wild plants growing from the outskirts of its capital city Islamabad to the hills of the northern Punjab regions, the country remains steadfast in trying to battle its way through the difficulties of its current textile production market. For the last 2 years, the once booming cotton industry in the country is wilting both literally and metaphorically. A 2013 report suggested that much of Pakistan’s cotton is imported from Afghanistan, as unpredictable weather and destructive ballworm infestations tore through most of the nations’ natural crop.

With up to 40% of all Pakistan’s industrial labourers working in the slowly fading cotton industry, a new industry is required more than ever…and hemp may be the answer.

The most pressing issues for the cotton industry are the lack of agricultural land, pests and changeable weather. However, hemp is able to grow on marginal, steep lands, is highly resistant to bad weather and does not attract pests. Hemp can also be grown in significant weight on very little land, meaning production could quadruple the nations’ textile harvests.

Despite the obvious benefits of harvesting hemp, Pakistan remains unmoved and will continue to rely on cotton as their primary textile export.

Earthly matters: Magical properties of hemp

Hemp or ‘bhang’ as we call it in the subcontinent might be infamous as a cheap intoxicant, but today researchers are saying that it is among the most productive and useful plants ever known to man. It was, in fact, cultivated for thousands of years and grown on a commercial scale till the last century. Hemp provides a sustainable alternative to many oil-based products and can also be used to make a variety of products from building materials to clothing to medicines. Unlike many crops, it can be grown easily in most locations and climates with minimum water and fertiliser inputs.

Hemp is now being produced in the US and Europe on a limited commercial scale. It grows in the wild all over Pakistan, but to grow it for commercial purposes a license is needed from the Pakistan Narcotics Control Board. According to Helga Ahmed, the well-known environmentalist based in Islamabad, hemp could be the perfect solution to Pakistan’s looming water crisis and the massive overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the country (which is causing the soil to lose its chemical balance and therefore its carrying capacity). Helga was one of the pioneers who successfully introduced biogas digesters to Pakistan decades ago and she is hoping that the commercial farming of hemp will now catch on as well.

“Before things get worse in Pakistan, perhaps we need to look westward where efforts are under way to find alternative solutions to the increasing natural hazards, finally acknowledged to be mainly man-made. The focus today in the West as well as in China is on the benefits of hemp,” she explains. She believes that various “commercial interests” played a major role in outlawing hemp, whose fibre length is up to 15 feet whereas cotton fibre is less than one inch long. In the 1930s, hemp was, in fact, considered a serious competitor to the newly developing technologies in the synthetic fibre, textile, timber and paper oil, composite wood, and pharmaceutical industries. Aggres-sive lobbying for marijuana prohibition began then and the hemp plant (which is similar to the other cannabis plants from which marijuana is produced) is still banned in the US.

Helga points out that, “Although China never banned hemp, the vast potential of this plant was rediscovered after Beijing’s Hemp Research Centre was established. Advanced technologies were developed, turning it into an easily workable fibre for highly sophisticated textiles. About 20,000 hectares of hemp have already been planted, and China aims to expand it to 1.3 million hectares of farmland.” The project will provide livelihoods for millions of small farmers in the rural areas, and it will free up large areas of cotton-growing land for food production. It will also reduce the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides required for the cotton crop.

Today, hemp is being grown worldwide. Canada’s hemp farms cover thousands of hectares while the US (where the plant is still illegal) is a major importer of its raw and finished products. According to Helga, cotton is probably one of the most environmentally destructive agricultural crops, requiring huge amounts of pesticides.

“Pesticides, as we know, contaminate the soil, air, water and they bio-accumulate (their toxicity increases as they are consumed up the food chain). Many pesticides are known carcinogens, and can also cause immune-deficiency disorders.” She has personally visited the cotton-growing belt in Pakistan where young cotton pickers are exposed to the dried pesticide residue in the plants. “Cottonwood is also burnt as fuel in the nearby villages, and women inhale the fumes while cooking. Some reports say other crops grown in the same soil also acquire the harmful effects of pesticides. This puts a large number of people at the risk of cancer.”

“Hemp, on the other hand, enriches the soil, requires little or no pesticides or herbicides, and its extensive deep-root system draws nutrients from deeper layers of soil. When the roots break down after harvesting, they aerate the soil,” she further clarifies. Cotton grows only in moderate climates and requires much more water than hemp. Hemp grows in a wide range of climates and is frost tolerant. Its irrigation requirement is one third of cotton. To top it off, “Hemp fibre’s tensile strength and durability far outshines that of cotton fibre.”

Helga points out that UK industries pay carbon credits to farmers willing to grow hemp, which is fed into bio-digesters after it is harvested, and the methane gas produced is turned into clean energy. In France, carbon credit is paid to industries that turn the inner woody part of hemp into building material called Hempcrete. It is claimed that it is resistant to termites and rodents, is non-flammable, and is ideal for cyclone- and earthquake-prone areas. In Germany, Mercedes and BMW still use hemp by-products. Hemp reinforces plastics, can be easily recycled, and therefore has no waste disposal problems.

She would like Pakistani farmers to recognise the benefits of this once ignored plant before it is too late. “Certainly according to the law, one can grow industrial hemp in Pakistan without any problem.” She also points out that indigenous trees like the Neem tree and the Drek tree can provide the country with natural pesticides and fertilisers so alternatives are available if we are serious about getting rid of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. The research is sound and other countries are doing it, so why not Pakistan?

Aray bhai kiun poori qaum ko Qaim ali shah banana hai

The problem is that we need that cotton as 60% of the current exports are related to it one way or the other and hence its related industries provide millions of jobs.

For Hemp to become a viable crop, the industry would be required to come up with products that can be sold in domestic and international market.

I am all for diversification of crops considering our impending water shortage in the next decade. We have to find alternatives especially for crops like Sugarcane, which requires a lot of water. Sugar-beets which required less water, did not work in southern Punjab and Sindh, the major Sugarcane cultivation areas because of the weather and soil but it worked fine in KPK. So we need to keep experimenting.

My area of Pothohar for example is not known for its agricultural production, mainly because of it being arid and land being uneven. But the cultivation of Olive in our region has been a great success in the last three years. Most of our land is not viable for crops like wheat etc so it remains uncultivated. But now the same land is being used for Olive growth and it has been a successful experiment. Currently 15k hectares is being used for Olive growth in Pakistan, govt's vision is to take it to 400k by 2020, which will mean Pakistan will be 9th largest Olive producer in the world.

So experimentation is good, as long as it is viable.
crop of bhang (Cannabis).


Shibli Faraz, the federal minister of Science and Technology, officiated in the harvesting of the first official crop of bhang (Cannabis).

The federal minister stated at the inauguration event that the first crop of bhang (Cannabis) cultivated on the government level was successfully prepared in three and a half months.
According to the data, the cannabis plant seeds were obtained from Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan, and they were grown on a one-acre plot of land.

On this occasion, the federal minister emphasised the benefits of cannabis cultivation and its use in the medical industry. He stated that cannabis cultivation is ten times more useful than other substances, and that we will not focus on the negative aspects. The minister also stated that bhang might be used as a substitute crop for cotton
Here Pakistan goes, the beginning of hemp cultivation in Pakistan. A detailed video about hemp.

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