How Hemp can Help India Achieve its Sustainable Development Goals Let's explore how an innovative hemp based business could establish a well-rounded circular economy

By Tarun Jami

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It is a racing certainty that businesses have an important role to play in preventing climate change. But businesses are predicated on profits, and not long ago, entrepreneurs considering businesses that incorporate climate solutions were thought to be "hare-brained". However, things have been changing gradually. Ever since the recent re-emergence of the trillion-dollar crop – hemp, dispositions are starting to look good for both climate and entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurial Advantages

Hemp is the common name for the species Cannabis sativa L., which encompasses other sub-species some of which are also used to produce the narcotic substance Marijuana. But, from an industrial perspective, hemp is also known to have about 25,000 applications, which means it can be used to produce something for everyone.

Considering the low input costs owing to the plant's independence from pesticides, fertilizers and care, cultivation of hemp forms an excellent value proposition. In further support of its case, with an exceptionally high yield of about 10-15 tons of biomass, it is approximately 4 times more than that of forests, at a fraction of the cost.

Hemp Applications and Innovations

Hemp is one of the earliest cultivated crops and was used to produce cordage, food, clothing and so on. It has been under industrial use until pre-World War times. Over the last few years, several hemp innovations have emerged. It has been used to produce a lightweight building material for walling and insulation purposes that has the added benefits of superior thermal performance and carbon negativity; plastic for functions ranging from single-use to automotive components; textiles used for technical as well as apparel and is found to be several times more sustainable than cotton and cheaper to produce; and in electronic applications such as in super-capacitors as a replacement of graphene.

Cannabis' medicinal uses are well established in traditional as well as modern pharmacopoeia, with ongoing research for cancer treatment, nutraceuticals and palliative care. Certain early-stage research studies (in Ellora caves) have also established hemp's role in archaeological conservation – a highly ignored lucrative business.

Good for India's Climate Goals and Farmer Welfare

One of the hallmark characteristics of the hemp plant is that it generates zero waste. Virtually, every part of the plant can be utilized for something. But how does hemp fit into the entire climate regime, and how does it help achieve the goals of the Paris Accords? Being an agricultural commodity, the hemp plant sequesters carbon dioxide during its growth phase – an excellent geoengineering strategy to fight global warming and climate change.

From the farmers' welfare and climate goals perspective, hemp generates great value since the crop cycle is small (approximately 12 weeks) and each kilogram of hemp sequesters about 1.8–2 kilograms of carbon dioxide at a very low cost. Most applications retain the integrity of hemp thus acting as carbon vaults. If its degradation can be prevented, the carbon dioxide absorbed by hemp remains sequestered within the product.

For example, every cubic meter of hemp concrete sequesters about 700 kilograms of carbon dioxide. With proper end of life management, the product can either be disposed of in such a manner that the carbon dioxide is not released back into the atmosphere or it may be recycled.

Carbon Finance and Govt. Subsidies

As a climate change mitigation strategy, the solution is meaningful only if it is scaled up (roughly several million hectares) since UNFCCC requires carbon capture volumes to be to the tune of several giga-tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Furthermore, innovative hemp-based businesses could establish a well-rounded circular economy, which could mean additional benefits for the entrepreneur by way of carbon finance and government subsidies.

Tarun Jami

Managing Partner and Founder of GreenJams Infrastructures LLP

Tarun is the Founder of GreenJams Infrastructures LLP, a construction start-up focusing on BuildTech and bio-aggregate building materials. The company is currently engaged in the development of hempcrete for adoption by the Indian construction industry.

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