Globally, cannabis has a long history as one of the mainstays and drivers of early industrialisation, providing fibre for ropes and canvas for sails that powered maritime trade to help build the global market that exists today, as well as textiles for clothing and an important role in medicinal apothecaries.

The banning of industrial hemp

It was South Africa’s colonial government that nominated “Indian hemp” to be listed as a dangerous drug by the League of Nations in the mid 1920s followed by the banning of industrial hemp as the result of a corporate agenda of nefarious interests in the US in the mid 1930s. It has been illegal for the past 80 years in most parts of the world for its narcotic properties while the industrial capacity continued to contribute to the economies of China, India and parts of Europe.

Currently, more than 30 countries have legal cannabis for medical use and a growing number of states in the US and other countries are legalising or tolerating cannabis for recreational use, including South Africa where the Constitutional Court ruled in September 2018 that it was legal to cultivate and use cannabis in the privacy of your own home and gave Parliament two years to amend legislation.

The cannabis value chain

Today, the global medical and recreational cannabis market is growing from an estimated $9.6-billion in 2017 to a projected market value of $57-billion-plus by 2027. The cannabis value chain is based on the components of the plant that have economic potential: the seed offers food and oil that is high in essential fatty acids, resulting in boosted immune systems. In addition, the plant can be used to produce both ethanol and biofuel that could potentially feed directly into the energy and plastic sectors. The stalk offers two main agro-processing streams, the outer layer that can be stripped providing one of the longest fibres known to humanity to be used for an extensive range of consumer and industrial textiles. The inner part of the stalk is used in the paper, automotive and building industries. The flower and most controversial part of the plant is where the medicinal and recreational benefits lie.

"The potential income per farmer per hectare is dependent on bio-region, climatic conditions and seed strains. Conservative estimates indicate that per hectare, stalk biomass is worth R50,000, fibre R18,000, seed R155,000 and cannabinoids R100,000. Average income per hectare is about R175,000, generating revenue of R350,000 for a small farmer on two hectares." (estimates in ZAR)

There are also noteworthy climate crisis mitigation benefits to cannabis farming and the possibility to access climate funding to roll out an industrial cannabis strategy. Cannabis sequesters up to 10,000 tons of carbon per hectare.

Nunti Sunya - Vincent Lartizien

On her podcast, Imi, had the privilege of having a chat with one of the pioneers of big wave surfing: he’s French and his name is Vincent Lartizien.  

Vincent started his career as a professional windsurfer. He traveled to Maui in the ’80s to follow his dream and ended up living there for the next 20 years.  It turned out big wave surfing was something he loved doing, and during the time he spent in Hawaii, he learned and mastered the art of tow-in surfing just after it got invented by Laird Hamilton. He was, in fact, the first non-Hawaiian to be allowed to surf Jaws and spent the next 30 years pulling off incredible exploits in dangerous situations in Hawaii and the rest of the world.

The podcast covers these early years and beyond, but turns into a more spiritual conversation about the flow of energy in the ocean, and how Vincent’s spiritual connection with the ocean has helped him see life differently.  In fact, about 6 years ago, Vincent, against all odds decided to create a hemp t-shirt manufacturing business. Six years later he is a successful soulpreneur with a vertically integrated hemp manufacturing facility near Hossegor.

Seed

The seed can be processed into food with a focus on preventative healthcare to boost the diet of the poor in the form of hemp hearts, the inside of the seed, or protein powder made from crushing the seed shell. Both are extremely high in proteins and omega essential fatty acids. The seed can also be cold pressed into an oil for human consumption.

Bio-fuel and plastic

The seed can be cold pressed into oil, the whole plant can be processed for fuel through a pyrolysis process or converted into ethanol by a fermentation process. There is also huge potential for an eco-friendly bio-plastics industry that will start to reverse land and sea plastic pollution.

Building

The inner part of the stalk, the hurd, can be processed into hempcrete for building houses that are stronger, fire- and moisture-proof and more durable. Communities can grow and build their own homes transforming the government’s housing programme from handouts to skills development and empowerment. The hurd can also be processed into eco-friendly insulation and pressed fibre-board similar to existing wood-based options.

Textiles

The outer part of the stalk, the bast fibres, can be used to make textiles that are extremely versatile and used for a wide variety of applications from accessories, shoes and furniture, to home furnishings.

Paper

Paper is made from either the hurd or bast fibre. Industrial cannabis/hemp paper is a valuable alternative to conventional paper made from trees, and could provide a more renewable source for much of the world’s paper needs — one acre of hemp can produce as much paper as four to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year cycle. Hemp stalks grow in four months, whereas trees take at least 20 years.

Medicine

Cannabis medicines were once the most commonly used medicines in the world until the 1920s and were listed in the US Pharmacopoeia until the mid-1930s. Today medical cannabis is playing an increasingly significant role and offers potentially cheap healthcare solutions for a variety of ailments that can directly contribute to primary and preventative health care on a community level and pharmaceutical medicines for specific conditions.

The rapid introduction of far-reaching, proactive and empowering legislation is required to create the conditions to allow cannabis the possibility to create jobs and to grow and manufacture sustainable food, fuel, fibre, shelter and medicine in a green sustainable way.