Walking around a half-abandoned building in Brandenburg last summer, I felt a slight agitation when I saw a group of plants, already grown, with small branches and with seven leaves at their ends. Some leaves that spoke for themselves. Or so I thought.
In the end, the story turned out different from what I had imagined. I thought it was a group of plants with intoxicating properties but a person with more knowledge of botany than me explained that it was the fibrous stems of hemp.
At this point, I have to acknowledge my ignorance about the plantCannabis sativa. Although I am not alone in this, my mistake is as honest as it is common. In fact, it is historical.
Various sources, on our coexistence with hemp, show that the plant has been used for about 10,000 and 17,000 years, being one of the first domestic crops. The oldest relic of human industry is a piece of cloth woven from its fibers.
In the millennia before our era, the plant was very popular both for its medicinal effects and for its versatility, since it allowed the creation of clothing, rope, paper and food.
Intoxicated and toxic
Most sources attest to a happy and creative relationship between man and plant well into the modern era. Until the beginning of the 20th century specifically, when tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the more than 100 cannabinoids that cannabis contains as a disturbing element, was discovered.
Given its psychotropic properties, THC has proven to be the plant's worst enemy. Boris Ba? As, a member of the board of directors of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) says that the demonization of the plant began in the US during the first "war on drugs" in the United States. years after its prohibition.
"I do not want to forge a conspiracy, but I believe that the international control of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances has greatly damaged the public perception," says Ba? As.
Georg Wurth, president of the German Hemp Association (DHV), goes a step further and suggests that the pursuit of this versatile plant is based on both its economic value and its narcotic value.
"The textile industry relied heavily on hemp," he says. "However, cotton was a big issue in the United States, as was the synthetic fiber industry so there was too much competition," he adds. Thus, the US response to the many versatile properties of hemp was to ban its use and cultivation.
A similar approach gradually took hold in other parts of the world, including Germany, where the plant had been a part of the landscape until World War II, when there was a great demand for its fiber, which was used for the production of uniforms.
But in the early 1980s the former Federal Republic prohibited both the exploitation and cultivation ofCannabis sativa. The plant completely disappeared from the German environment.
The plant has been grown again since 1996, but this time with more nuances.
Clarity on the properties of hemp was key to its reintroduction into the country's crop registry, Wurth explains.
"In the 80s and 90s there were studies that showed that it is possible to grow hemp with low levels of THC”, Wurth tells DW. . The second helps restore hemp's reputation as a plant with many possibilities.
From clothes, bags and shoes to stationery, cosmetics, rope-framed wall mirrors and all kinds of food.
In addition, there are also derivative and less obvious products, such as hemp concrete and insulation and plasticized material used in the automotive industry. In short, this plant of superlatives has come a long way in two decades.
"About five or six years ago, shoppers at food fairs would have asked," What is that? "Now they ask," How much does it cost and how long does it take to deliver? " Ba? as account to DW.
Hemp: Great for the environment?
They also ask about the environmental impact. Although it requires little use of pesticides and is suitable for crop rotation, hemp is still far from exploiting its full potential. At least in this part of the world.
According to Ba? As, in 2016 the growing area used in Germany for hemp was only 15 square kilometers (1,500 hectares), while in Europe it was 300 square kilometers (almost 30,000 hectares). In turn, in the European Union there are only 60 registered varieties of hemp, compared to 396 varieties of peas.
"It is a demanding plant that requires an adequate agricultural economy and cultivation technology," says Ba? As. "There are differences in fiber, biomass, seed and flower production," he explains. "Farmers need to know what they are doing and for which market segment ”, says Ba? as.
They obviously have a lot to choose from. And the hope among supporters of industrial hemp cultivation is that the diversity of possibilities, which have lain dormant for so long in the plant's despised seeds, will finally be recognized and given a chance to flourish strongly.