Let's focus on industrial hemp
Norris McDonald and Roy Patrick, Contributors
Industrial hemp is a 'legal weed' with annual sales in the United States (US) averaging about US$500 million dollars. This is expected to rise because of the push to decriminalise all forms of marijuana (cannabis sativa) especially its non-toxic cousin, the hemp plant. Ganja is merely one of 500 varieties of this hemp plant and there is no reason Jamaica can't begin a pilot study in industrial hemp production.
Industrial hemp is in the spotlight as many countries race to boost production. Governor Jerry Brown, of California, recently signed a law legalising industrial hemp production. America is a large consumer of industrial hemp products but, at present, most of it is bought from overseas.
Canada is the biggest supplier of industrial hemp to America, and it may well be possible for Jamaica to become a big exporter to the US and other markets. The US (Hawaii), Canada, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, China, Japan, France are among the roughly 27 countries worldwide which grow industrial Hemp. Unlike ganja, it has lower levels of drug toxicity, hence its risk for being abused is considerably less.
The University of Kentucky - College of Agriculture is one of many public institutions studying its economic potentials to boost jobs and revenue for investors. The school published a study on January, 2013 titled, Industrial Hemp Production. It reinforced the fact that, "hundreds of products" can be made from hemp fibre and seeds. Products such as carpets, paper, twine, clothing and animal bedding, industrial oil, biofuels, cosmetics, medicine, personal-care products, cooking oil and pasta salad were highlighted as new products that can emerge from taking advantage of the agro-industrial potentials of the hemp plant.
Hemp is used also to make rope, vegetable oil, vitamin products and brain stimulants.
Cannabin is one of the natural ingredients in industrial hemp and, reportedly, promotes 'healthy ageing,' protects our brains and removes free-oxygen radicals from the body that can cause ill-health.
Another major study
Oregon University is another major American institution that did a comprehensive study on economic potentials of industrial hemp. This study was done in 1998 and, though some critics could argue that it is 'dated', its relevance and significance is based on its overall scope. The Oregon study examined industrial hemp's cost-effectiveness, profitability and viability. It looked at "net return per acre at various price and yield levels" for farms engaging in industrial-hemp production. It also examined farming methods, based on low cost, unskilled labour and more highly skilled farming methods.
This detailed study would be of great value to Jamaican agronomists, and our Government of course, who would be able to use it as a basis for more detailed research. Jamaica should use some of this progressive knowledge and create a new industrial hemp industry. This could enable us to earn hundreds of millions of dollars.
Private-sector money could be used on low-yield sugar farm lands to help reorientate the national economy from traditional crops to this non-traditional crop.
The Government can play an urgent role in facilitating a new industrial plan, based on hemp production, by doing three things.
First, by legalising industrial-hemp production and developing our own technical expertise.
Second, it should give tax write-offs, along with zero taxation or tariffs on all exports, or set any such tariffs at the prevailing cross-country comparative rates. The Government could then lock in a low taxation rate of 10-15 per cent on net profits, over the next 25 years for our investors.
Third, the Jamaican Government could pursue rural-agriculture reform to make more land and, low-cost financing available to small farmers who want to go into industrial hemp production. Ganja farmers who have great agricultural skills could shift to producing 'legal weed'.
Jamaican can catch Canada's half-billion-dollar production and easily surpass it. Canada has a three- to four-month growing season and we could grow the crop all year round.
This requires political will, private-sector ingenuity and national support.
Norris McDonald is a journalist. Roy Patrick is a chemist, agronomist and horticulturalist who has worked in both the private and public sectors. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.