Successful cultivation of industrial-hemp will be a game changer for Uttarakhand’s farmers and state’s economy: Reena Joshi, DM, Bageshwar

Indraneel Chakrabarty: After six years of extensive research and rigorous ground work, Bageshwar-district in Uttarakhand has become the first to make the prototype of ‘standardised industrial hemp’ with less than 0.3 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the permissible limit set down by international laws and state parameters.

The agriculture department and Dr. Brij Kishore Mishra, Principal Scientist & Chief Plant Breeder, BOHECO regularly monitored the cultivation of the crop, and closely guided three farmers who were given license to cultivate industrial hemp on 0.5-acre land. In an exclusive interaction with The Quotes, Reena Joshi, DM, Bageshwar, spoke at length about the significance of the industrial-hemp, challenges during the process of cultivating industrial-hemp, and how it will impact the life of common public.

What is the significance of the invention of industrial hemp?

Noting the many benefits of nutrient rich super-food hemp, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in November 2021 notified that the seed and its derivatives – oil and flour can be used or sold as an ingredient in the food. The license was granted under the condition that the value should remain below 0.3%. When the THC value of this plant is low, it cannot be used make intoxicants. Only it’s fibre, leaves and stem remain useful.

Hemp is ideal for a state like Uttarakhand where the topology and acute water scarcity come in the way of cultivating conventional crops. It can be harvested in three months, requires very little water. A hectare of hemp absorbs 15 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, making it a critical crop in the backdrop climate change.

Could you please recall the early days when you along with your team started the project? 

Even with the policy permitting the cultivation of non-narcotic cannabis being formulated in 1985, cultivation of cannabis could not be allowed in India under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985. 

Around five years ago, the authorities did express keenness, but weren’t tapping into this $1-trillion industry, as they had limited knowledge of how to proceed. Centre for Aromatic Plants (CAP), Selaqui, Dehradun played crucial role in policy framing for the state, while the preliminary research activities were initiated by Dr. Sudhir Shukla, Retd. Chief Scientist, CSIR-NBRI along with Dr. Brij Kishore Mishra, Principal Scientist & Chief Plant Breeder, BOHECO.

What kind of challenges your team overcame in process?

Cross-pollination is one of the challenges. For example, if someone has be given a license to produce industrial-hemp and nearby someone else is cultivating regular hemp illegally, then this could lead to cross-pollination which will alter THC in the next generation, causing an increase in the THC value. In this event we are compelled to destroy the entire crop. The entire process, thus, supervised by the Agriculture Department. (Note: Cross pollination affects next generation as pollens from nearby crops will fertilize the female plants of standardize industrial hemp with low THC thereby formation of seeds will happen. These seeds will be having altered THC).

How will it benefit the farmers and the state?

I would like to make it clear that industrial-hemp is separate from cultivating bhaang. The THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) value in industrial-hemp is quite low. Additionally, the per hectare cost works out to be Rs. 80,000. With an estimated revenue from the yield to be in the range of Rs. 5 to 6 lakhs, the expected net profit per hectare would be Rs. 4-5 lakhs. Industrial-hemp is a complete game changer for Uttarakhand’s economy and agricultural development.

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