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Opinions of Sunday, 20 October 2019

Columnist: Elikem Korsi Asafo

What Ghana stands to gain from industrial hemp products, by products

Industrial hemp is a plant that has been around for centuries, and although outlawed by many countries as a harmful plant, many countries in recent times, such as China, Canada and the United States of America, have harnessed the plant for industrialization.

Termed industrial hemp for that reason, the plant is used in the manufacturing of rope, textiles, shoes, paper and bioplastics among others.

Although industrial hemp is considered a narcotic drug in Ghana due to many misconceptions, industrial hemp comes from the plant species of Cannabis Sativa (hemp) and contains less than 0.3% of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical compound, which gives people the “high” found in Cannabis Indica (Marijuana/weed).

The chemical compound produced by industrial hemp is Cannabidiol (CBD) and it is known to treat several illnesses such as cancerous and neurological illnesses.

Industrial hemp has contributed immensely to the GDP of those countries that have capitalized on its benefits. Ghana is not one of those countries. On the contrary, cultivation of the plant is extremely frowned upon by the citizens even though with a permit from the ministry of health, it is considered legal.

The use of industrial hemp in Ghana, or lack thereof, is attributed to several stereotypes associated with the plant. This article seeks to explore these stereotypes and what Ghana stands to gain.

In 20th century America, industrial hemp was considered public enemy 1, especially by parents who feared that marijuana, different from industrial hemp but with similar physical attributes, would turn their kids into drug addicts. Criminalizing of the drug was therefore inevitable.

This thought by the American parents of that time brings us to the first stereotype of industrial hemp by Ghanaians which is that industrial hemp leads to drug addiction. In the eyes of majority of the Ghanaian people, marijuana and industrial hemp are the same. Therefore, abuse of it would lead to serious problems among the youth.

Another stereotype of industrial hemp by the Ghanaian people is that it is a plant by the devil. Ghanaians are very religious and tend to associate anything they deem bad with the devil. Industrial hemp is no exception.

They look down upon countries that freely exhibit the use of the plant, seeing them as unholy. It is as a result of this religious sanctimony, that they fall behind the so called ‘demonic’ countries.

Again, to Ghanaians, anyone that uses industrial hemp is either a criminal or not mentally sound. Once more, ignorance of the difference between marijuana and industrial hemp plays in this regard. And so, it is outlawed by the people as a drug for hardcore gangsters or people who are ‘mad’.

Though it is true that a large percentage of people who are committed into Ghanaian mental institutions such as Pantang are there due to drug abuse, these people are there as a result of the misuse of drugs such as tramadol and marijuana and not industrial hemp.

As mentioned above there are numerous misconceptions which affect the acceptance of industrial hemp in Ghana, nonetheless, Ghana still stands to gain a lot from the plant and its by-products. From its plantation to its application in the modern world, its outputs positively impact a countries economy, environment, agriculture and developmental. The plant can be split into 3 different parts to form over 25,000 products making up of the $3.97 global industry.

Industrial hemp seeds are a $319 million global industry branching into the nutritional, livestock, cosmetic and medical industries. Its’s seeds are considered a ‘superfood’ due to its perfect balance of fatty acids (omega 3and 6) , vitamins( A,B and E), carbohydrates (fiber and sugar), fat and minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc phosphorus) and many more giving them the name of the most complete food source in the world.

Due to it being a superfood, it may reduce heart diseases, high blood pressure diabetes, skill illnesses (reason it is being used in cosmetic products) and other diseases. Giving its properties, people globally have started to use it to cure their diseases without any side effects. Instead of using chemical treatment which only treats symptoms and not cure the illness-causing several relapses and side effects.

In Ghana, agriculture contributes 54% of our GDP and 40.65% total employment are agricultures. According to the Agricultural Sector Progress of 2017, imports of feed reached a total of 69,966.87 metric tons. As a nation, we are all very desirous of being self-reliant and stop being dependent on imports.

Looking at our agriculture which plays a major role in our GDP, reducing import on products which can be self-made, will contribute to self-reliance. In the case of industrial hemp, if Ghana had the capacity to produce it for animal feed, which contains more nutritional value than imported feeds listed in the report, we would stand to gain a reduction of feed importations and a presence in $319 million seed industry.

The straw/fiber of industrial hemp is a $190 million global industry and its by-products are seen in the construction, textile, automotive and paper industry. In all these industries, Ghana stands to gain the most in the construction and textile industry. In the construction industry, hempcrete has made great strides.

Hempcrete is a fibre-reinforced lightweight concrete and being one of the best performing, non-toxic, ecological and renewable materials as it absorbs CO2, is waterproof, insect and fungi repellent. If buildings were constructed in Ghana out of hempcrete, not only will it reduce Ghana’s carbon footprint whilst attaining our goal of sustainable development according to the SDGs, but also reduce damage caused by floods in flood-prone areas. On the other hand, conventional cement is the third-ranking producer of anthropogenic CO2 making 5% of total worldwide CO2 emissions.

In the textile industry, industrial hemp is one of the eco-friendliest products. Ghana’s textile industry mostly uses cotton as their primary product in spite of its numerous negative impacts on the environment. Comparing industrial hemp fiber to cotton, it is clear that industrial hemp is the viable option. Cotton needs twice as much land as industrial hemp to grow and needs 9.758L of water to grow 1kg of fiber whereas industrial hemp only needs 2.123L to grow 1kg.

In addition, industrial hemp returns 60% of the nutrients to the soil when dried in the field whilst cotton pollutes the water and leaves the land scorched due to its high pesticide and herbicide needs. What Ghana stands to gain in using industrial hemp fiber as substitution is, a plant which doesn’t need any pesticide, a plant 4x more durable and produces twice as much fiber as cotton.

Lastly, the north of Ghana uses cotton as their cash crop but the more they use it the more droughts will be caused and the more infertile the land becomes. Using industrial hemp is substitute will surely not only bring more revenue to the north but also reduce their carbon footprint.

The most financially profitable by-product of industrial hemp is its CBD oil from the flower. CBD oil is a $462 million industry due to its medical and nutritious properties. CBD oil relieves pain, reduces anxiety and depression, can treat neurological disorders like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, improves heart health and reduces the chance of diabetes. The oil has been proven to be anti-tumorous.

It has shown to prevent the spread of breast, prostate, brain, colon and lung cancer. Patients around the world are dropping the use of chemical medication and chemotherapy to treat their cancer and are now relying on CBD oil. In using CBD to cure illnesses, Ghanaians stand to gain a natural way of curing their illness, a treatment less expensive than chemotherapy and safer than chemical medication with several side effects.

Lastly, the main impact industrial hemp has is on the environment. As mentioned above, it does not need any pesticide or herbicide, which contribute to the emission of greenhouse gasses. It contains CBD, a natural chemical compound with insecticidal properties, it kills bacteria and fungi. Industrial hemp grows so fast in 3 months that it smothers any weeds growing. Furthermore, each tone of industrial hemp grown, 1.63 tons of CO2 are absorbed, which is 10 times more than a ton of trees grown.

As agriculture is key in our economy, we need sustainable and eco-friendly methods of farming. The solution is industrial hemp, as mentioned before, when grown, it can return nutrients to the soil rather than just consume any nitrogen available in the ground. When field-retting industrial hemp for fiber, nutrients return to the soil, creating balance and equilibrium. When grown for seed, it’s leaves naturally fall to the soil as the plant matures, further returning nitrogen to the soil.

This symbiotic relationship with the land implies that industrial hemp can help nourish our soil back to health. Unlike many crops, industrial hemp puts little strain on the soil and requires only moderate amounts of fertilizer. Less fertilizer use, results in less runoff into waterways and groundwater; therefore, less water pollution.

Using industrial hemp in crop rotation, will not only help repair damage to soils caused by the effects of compaction and erosion but also increase yields for future uses. Industrial hemp, with a deep taproot reaching up to 2 or 3 meters, can break up compaction, aerate the soil and further aid in nutrient absorption and uptake by plants season-over-season.

These are just some of the possibilities Ghana stands to gain with the use of Industrial hemp ad its by-products. When we depend on the earth to survive and for our economy, we should do everything possible to respect and preserve it, even if it means breaking ways with old practices who were influenced by western propaganda. It is about time the Ghanaians were educated on the economic, developmental and environmental importance of industrial hemp and steered away from the primitive notion that it is bad through and through.

Ghana needs to take part in the profit and take steps towards hemp industrialization. It is ironic that a country that abhors the plant so much is also one of the top illicit producers of the plant in West Africa. A change is taking place, and Ghana needs to be part of it.