This Startup is All Set to Disrupt Agri Sector with Hemp The Indian hemp industry is at a very nascent stage with not more than 3-4 players leading the game

By Vanita D'souza

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Standing Back row (L-R): Chirag Tekchandaney, Jahan Pestonjamas, Avnish Pandya, Sanvar Oberoi, Delzaad Deolaliwala. Sitting Front row (L-R): Sumit Shah, Yash P. Kotak

Most of the millennial are gushing towards technology-based startups. Reason being it is cool to work for startups that talk about blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning and future technologies. But have you realised with this trend kicking in, the younger generation of the country is neglecting India's star sector – agriculture.

While some of us can crib about this situation, there are others like Yash Kotak and his six other friends Chirag Tekchandaney, Jahan Pestonjamas, Avnish Pandya, Sanvar Oberoi, Delzaad Deolaliwala and Sumit Shah, who have decided to turntables.

During a college project (rural electrification), the group realized that they need to do something to attract like-minded young individuals to the Agri sector. Jahan Pestonjamas, who was visiting Australia, came across to a small town called the Magret River, which is famous for two raw materials – grapes and hemp.

Pestonjamas immediately shared his experience with friends on how hemp can be used for other than recreational activities. And that's how the Bombay Hemp Company or BOHECO was born. The startup today is backed by the likes of Rajan Anandan and Ratan Tata.

The Plant in India's Backyard

As a part of their research to start BOHECO, during a rural India trail, the co-founders realised how hemp is a part of the day to day life in the Himalayan region. But what people didn't know was the economic scale of the plant.

"To unlock these areas, one of the major problem is with consistency in the quality and quantity. So, for example, to manufacture textile, we need a consistent grade of raw material in large scale," Chirag Tekchandaney shared.

Hence, BOHECO studied models for China and some European countries, the world leaders in the hemp industry. These regions have developed seed with low Tetrahydrocannabinol also known as THC, the narcotic element in cannabis.

According to United Nations, THC levels below 0.3 per cent are non-abusable. The startup feels this is why the State Governments (Cannabis is largely a state subject in India) are likely to be comfortable with BOHECO growing hemp on a large scale.

Sumit Shah added "Our primary goal is to develop a seed that will enable farmers to grow hemp with good output and minimum THC. The Uttarakhand State Government has a policy in place for the commercialization of industrial hemp at a large scale. The only compulsion is we have is to give them a certified low THC seed.

The inception of an Industry

The Indian hemp industry is also at a very nascent stage with not more than 3-4 players leading the game. Tekchandaney says BOHECO's goal is to connect all the stakeholder of the industry from the farmers to policymakers to consumers and to educate them with scientific facts and proof of concepts.

The company also has to work with multiple government agencies because it affects a lot of departments like the excise department, agriculture department and the state's revenue department. While on the other side, district magistrate's office plays the largest role because as they overlook the cultivation side of it.

It is important for BOHECO to have everyone on the same page to avoid litigations. Though some of them have seen the commercial uses of hemp and have realised the economic opportunities the plant held, others were apprehensive about the idea.

"We had to explain them the difference between cannabis indica, which is used for recreation, medicinal use, etc and cannabis sativa that is predominately the industrial version of the hemp family and it has better fiber content," Yash Kotak said while adding that, "Every time we met someone, we have to tell them the plant in our backyard is not a problem. There are 5000 other uses of this crop and we backed it up with a food item, a cloth, a brick to prove our point."

But luckily, BOHECO has been successful in its agenda and presently is talking to other state governments to look into their backyards.

Moolah Accounts

In 2013, to sustain their initial research, the group launched a line of white shirts made up of hemp fibres followed by hemp oil, seeds and protein powder.

Chirag claimed, "Since then, we have launched a lot of collections as far as garments are concerned and also imported hemp oil. At this moment, we have a full-fledged revenue stream from these businesses. The major role that BOHECO wants to play in the long run is to hold the value chains in one of these industries."

Vanita D'souza

Former Senior Correspondent, Entrepreneur India

I am a Mumbai-based journalist and have worked with media companies like The Dollar Business Magazine, Business Standard, etc.While on the other side, I am an avid reader who is a travel freak and has accepted foodism as my religion.

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