The War on Drugs has been waged since time immemorial, but India has of late cracked down hard. Drugs, the most common of which is the Cannabis plant better known as Marijuana. While this may be the more infamous version of the plant, there is more to it than meets the material eye, with deep historic roots set in Indian soil.
In the Himalayan regions of India, Cannabis is a 9000-year-old wonder-crop that has served the local people with a plethora of solutions. In 2013, a group of seven young men from Bombay formed the Bombay Hemp Company (Boheco), an agro-based enterprise that reimagines the future of Indian Agriculture and sustainable living with Hemp as their lens. Their unique design and intention, unseen before, fuses the potential of HEMP with existing industries of Agriculture, Technology and Medicine.
Hemp Boheco harnesses the power of hemp by advocating industrial hemp and its benefits to society, by empowering farmers in Uttarakhand to handle a crop they are all too familiar with. The idea struck after a student initiative called Project Chirag under SIFE (students in free enterprise) encouraged the team to help light villages that had never seen electricity with solar energy. They then discovered that in several places in the Himalayan region, while much had changed, the ancient use of hemp had not. Further inspiration came when one of the members visited a small district in Australia where he saw how hemp was used to create a variety of things, creating sustainable options.
Hemp is a zero-waste crop that has multiple uses, with the seed used for cooking, the outer fibre for clothing, the leaf and flower for medicine and the internal herd fibre for building material. The company worked hard to regularise this in Uttarakhand where the cannabis plant grows wild but is under government surveillance given its history of abuse. To work directly with the farmers, BOHECO via its not-for-profit division called Athulya Krishi Foundation (AKF) allied with two local farmer groups that houses over 500 farmers who work from separate areas to clean and deliver the material.
BOHECO then mapped out and discovered the regions where cannabis and HEMP were widely available and explored further uses of the crop to increase livelihood opportunities for farmers and artisans. They set their base in Uttarakhand, where the crop grows indigenously and saw how raw HEMP was transformed into charming handlooms. Hemp Yarn is one of the benefits of the outer fibre of the plant, and so far 150 women weavers have been employed to further this dream.
The Bombay Hemp Company: The company procures and works with three base materials: hemp seeds, hemp fibre and the cannabis leaves. While the last one can only be sourced from the government, the first two are sourced through the two farmer groups via AKF.
Farmers collect if from five zones that are geographically best traversed by them and bring it to one centralised location. It is then cleaned and sent for a grading and cleaning process to remove all the dirt and plant matter that comes with it.
An example is for a product called Hemp hearts where the outer shell of the seed is removed, and the smaller seeds are sent for oil production. After it undergoes the cleaning and grading process it is packed and sent to Madhya Pradesh where it goes through another round of cleaning. They follow a series of tests and analysis that checks nutritional profiles and impurities.
The Cannabis plant is seasonal only once a year, and from October to January the 500 farmers set about collecting the seeds that are then stored until the next season. While the seeds have a shelf-life of two years, The Bombay Hemp Company refreshes it every season.
The Cannabis plant is extremely low maintenance and requires 400 tonnes less water than the cotton plant but produces fabric that is a hundred times stronger. It is naturally hypoallergenic and UV-resistant and requires zero pesticides.
Boheco has successfully tapped into a natural plant with therapeutic and varying qualities. While the Cannabis plant is vilified for its abusive nature, it is not known that the plant with its long roots binds the soil tighter thus preventing deforestation. Their vision is to expand the uses of this plant the mainstream market given its environmental, social and economic abilities while also empowering and uplifting the backbone of India: its farmers.