The Comeback of Hemp in China
This year’s International Conference on Hemp Industry in Harbin, China, was one of the largest events ever held on hemp. 300 delegates from China, Australia, Europe and Canada presented success stories from all over the world and discussed future production and marketing strategies for even more and better hemp products. The conference showcased the importance and versatility of the environmental friendly crop hemp.
In China, just about 2.800 B.C, the first rope in the world was twisted out of hemp fibres and at the same time, the first paper was created out of hemp. There are indications that in the 28th century B.C. in China, clothes were also made out of hemp fibres. The oldest, preserved textile is dated back to approx. 1000 B.C. In the 17th century at the pinnacle of sailing, hemp experienced its heyday in Europe. Into the 18th century hemp fibres together with flax, nettle und wool were the central raw materials of the European textile industry. For paper production, pulp was produced out of rags.
The decline of the hemp industry began in the 18th century and continued until the end of the 20th century. Hemp became nearly insignificant. The cotton spinning industrialization commenced a victorious, worldwide conquest for cotton textiles.
As it seems the situation might turn again. Due to increasing environmental problems, the tremendous water demand, soil salinization and the use of pesticides in cotton cultivation and processing, it becomes more and more essential to find eco-friendly alternatives. This is where hemp comes into play again. The cradle of hemp cultivation and processing, the Heilongjian Province in China, intensified their research and development to produce fine hemp fibres as a comfortable and environmental friendly alternative to cotton. Moreover, experts work on hemp foods and pharmaceuticals. It is exciting to see the Heilongjian Province going back to their hemp roots again and also the western hemp business is invited to share in the hemp boom on their way to success.
The fact that the quality and price of Chinese cotton are not very competitive (China imported three million tons of cotton from the U.S. – unimaginable only some years ago) pushed Heilongjiang’s decision to evaluate the whole chain of industrial hemp production and to produce hemp on a large scale. As a result, the cultivation area in the Chinese Province of Heilongjiang alone has grown to more than 74.000 acres only in this year – an acreage comparable to overall hemp cultivation area in Canada or in Europe. And the plans of the Province officials are to even double the acreage next year.
New technologies for more efficiency and output
Universities from Heilongjiang Province, Ukraine and Canada started a comprehensive research program to design new hemp varieties, more versatile and efficient harvesters and new technologies to generate fine hemp fibres, seeds and flowers. Berlin based company HANF FARM GmbH has developed a unique hemp harvester, the Multicombine HC 3400, which is able to cut on several heights so that the plant can be harvested repeatedly in only one growing period. Experts expect that harvesting technologies, such as the MultiCombine HC 3400, will be one of the key factors for the success of Chinese ambitious plans. For the textiles sector new procedures to gain fine hemp fibres were developed. It turned out that the use of enzymes is an especially eco-friendly way. Thanks to the enzymatic cottonisation, hemp fibres will be able to be processed by cotton machines, alone or even together with other fibres.
New and better products – new and better chances
Fabrics made of hemp fibres convince with their unique quality – they are thermoactive, antistatic, antibacterial, provide a good UV protection and are quick-drying. Therefore, they are perfect for all kinds of clothing and underwear but also for towels, bedclothing etc.
Hemp oil is most suitable for cosmetics. Valuable skin caring substances contained in hemp oil make it a natural ingredient predestined for a wide variety of excellent skin care cosmetic products. Due to a high percentage of unsatturated fatty acids (80 percent), the skin is cared profoundly, exzessive skin moisture loss is prevented. Through the essential fatty acids linolenic and alpha-lenolenic acid in combination with the rare gamma-linolenic acid, skin conditions such a neurodernitis or psoriasis can be treated. The product range of hemp cosmetics provide a broad variety of cremes, body lotions, bubble baths, shower gels and massage oils.
Hemp food and feed products are further important markets in China as well as in the western countries. Hemp seeds are the initial raw material for a broad range of hemp foods, e.g. hemp oil or hemp protein. From a nutritional-physiological perspective, hemp food products are immensely valuable. Hemp is rich in polyunsaturated fats and, above all, contains the perfect ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 (3:1). This makes hemp foods, and especially hemp oil, an outstanding alternative omega source for vegetarians and vegans. With all eight essential amino acids, they can make a valuable contribution to daily nutrition. The non-allergenic hemp food products are highly recommendable for allergy sufferers. Hemp feed products round the holistic use of the hemp plant.
CBD also gains importance to the Chinese market, especially for pharmaceuticals. The number of companies extracting CBD from leaves and blossom grows continuously – not only in China. THC becoming legal in a growing number of countries opens the market for pharmaceutical use, too.
Hemp instead of plastic or fibre-glass is an environmental friendly way to produce components for the automotive and building industry. China also uses the rougher variant of the hemp fibre e.g. for doors and shelves. Beneath the eco-friendliness the low weight is an important advantage.
Marihuana or Industrial Hemp – a question of sound scientific legislation
Contrary to Europe, Chinese regulations differentiate marihuana and industrial hemp directly on the field by the scientific distinguishing criterion of 0,3% THC (Small, E. & Cronquist, A. 1976. A Practical and Natural Taxonomy for Cannabis). It is desirable that European legislation will re-establish this value as well.
The Heilonjiang Province is convinced to be on the right track and look for partners in Europe and North America for international cooperation. They have the resources to start an up-to-date hemp industry and offer subsidies as well as an outstanding infrastructure.
Author: Daniel Kruse
Was invited as a speaker to the conference in Harbin in his role as founder and CEO of HempConsult GmbH (www.hempconsult.com), a leading advisory firm for hemp related topics. Mr. Kruse is also a member of the board of the “European Industrial Hemp Association” (www.eiha.org).