Boon for Indian farmers - Can it be cannabis ?

Dr Reza Borhani
Agriculture in India is known from the time of Indus Valley Civilization and probably, even before that,in South India. India ranks second in the world in farm outputs. As per 2018, agriculture employed 50% of the Indian work force and contributed 17-18% to country’s GDP. Inspite of this fantastic opportunity, in terms of fertile land and suitable climate, easily available, skilled labor as well as an envious history, current state of agriculture industry in India is pitiful. Be it the lack of financial, technological or logistical infrastructure, India is decades behind in the implementation of several techniques that could scale the glorious, but neglected industry back to its former glory. While the Indian GDP has seen a somewhat steady increase of 7% per annum over the past 25 years or so, it does not reflect the growth of individual sectors and can paint a false image of prosperity.
The agricultural industry has only seen about 2.5% of growth, which is quite low considering India has the natural and labor resources to see much better figures.
Besides most agricultural families beingforced to live in extreme poverty, there has been a rise in the number of farmer suicides, especially in states like Maharashtra, to the point they’ve just become another statistic. Policy reforms by the governmentare a requirement. But more evidently, there needs be a shift in the mindset of how India approaches the farming industry. Attention has to be paid to the global demand and supply trends certain crops and then be willing to adopt the necessary changes to maximize production and profits. Owing to the climate crisis and an increase in scientific and public awareness, current global trends indicate a rise in demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives to commonly used products.
Hemp, one of the derivatives of the Cannabis plant is the answer and can potentially solve most of these issues, including, help resolve the Indian agrarian crisis to a great extent. Rest of the world, including China, is aware of this and hence, there has been a surge in their production. Cultivated since approximately 12,000 years, Hemp is the source of not only the longest and strongest natural fiber known to man but can also beutilized to make over 25,000 such sustainable and environmentally friendly products. These range from biodegradable plastics, fuels, food, clothing, paper, latex, shoes, cement blocks, rope, canvas, cellophane, paints, chain lubricants, paper, fiberboard, cosmetics, and soap to name a few.
India is by no means a stranger to the use of Cannabis for its religious and cultural uses. However, the legislation does not allow production for its various industrial and commercial applications.  THC, the psychoactive element in Cannabis, is illegal in India. If Indian states were to go ahead and provide the necessary permissions to begin the production of Hemp, India could become one of the world leader in a trillion-dollar, eco-industry in no time. However, each state needs to approach it in a different manner due to differences in the climates in the various geographies and resulting differences in the characteristics of the Cannabis / Hemp plant.
Being a tropical country, India has an average annual rainfall of 300-650 mm as well as longer exposure to sunlight throughout the year, giving Hemp the ideal conditions to flourish. Marijuana plant can adapt to dry places and adverse conditions due to genetic capabilities, which enable them to do quite well under drought conditions. Specifically, it can fight against situations of environmental stress, low temperatures, high salinity and water shortagesThis makes it an extremely hardy and tolerant annual plant, which consistently produces high yields. At least, two to three crops can be grown and which may serve to alleviate the economic issues faced by the Indian farmers, probably allowing an end to desperation and suicides.
The benefits don’t end here. Hemp can be grown completely organically without the use of harmful chemical pesticides or herbicides. This makes it perfect for not only full-time production but also for crop rotation to eliminate the effects of pesticides, soil remediation, weeding fields, and bio-absorption of heavy metals and contaminants.
Not only will this give an impetus to the agricultural industry and the country’s overall GDP, but also improve the lives of the farmers responsible for putting food on the table. The farmers will be assured higher yields from their land, which will lead to greater profits as the demand for Hemp is only going to increase in the near future. To a greater extent, India will also be doing its part in making the world a better place by giving the masses a healthy choice for themselves and the planet. The global revolution is already knocking on the door. The question is; will India answer it and will the timing be right?
The writer is Ph D in Alternative Medicine, Founder and President of Cannabis Health and Sciences