Which place is better for the hemp industry to boom than India? One of the oldest civilizations across the globe and the planet’s most sustainable material resource makes an excellent combination.
More than 60% of all districts across the country see wild-grown, natural cannabis. There is also a strong link between the country’s historic culture and hemp.
Several countries have started taking advantage of hemp, the miracle crop. India is still a nation that thrives on farming. Not only its economy but its environment would also benefit from hemp. Yet, India is lagging far behind compared to its counterparts when it comes to utilizing this wonder plant.
Indians have been using cannabis for thousands with Vedas, considered to be at least 3,400 years old, considering it one of the five most sacred plants.
Hemp has wide applications in the steel industry, medical industry and serves as an excellent alternative to harmful plastics. However, hemp cultivation is only legal in two Indian states, with another two soon joining the bandwagon.
Let’s read on to find more about the Indian hemp industry, opportunities, and future outlook.
Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is a variety of cannabis known as hemp, a non-drug cannabis with THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, and content generally below 0.3%. One can cultivate the crop for either fiber, CBD, cannabidiol, or seed. Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil constitutes a significant part of the hemp business.
There are projections that the global industrial hemp market would grow from 4.6 billion USD in 2019 to 26.6 billion USD by 2025 with a CAGR of 34% (1).
In the global hemp economy, China holds the market value at 1.7 billion USD in 2017 and presently has the share of more than 20% of total production, followed by other nations, including the US, Canada, France, and Chile (2).
The rising awareness about the benefits of industrial hemp, increasing legalization to cultivate industrial hemp in several countries, and its increasing applications in several industries such as food, beverages, pharmaceutical, personal care, textile, construction, automobile, furniture, and paper are the key drivers of the hemp market. Apart from these, hemp is also an excellent alternative to plastic as it is biodegradable and non-toxic.
The Indian government allows hemp or cannabis, the non-drug category products, to be sold on general e-commerce platforms after necessary due diligence. However, CBD or hemp possibility is still not legal as an ingredient in beverages, food, and food supplements, in the country.
Under section 10 of the Indian NDPS, Narcotic Drugs, and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985, the state government has the power to license cannabis cultivation for medical and scientific purposes. Even though hemp grows wildly in India, its farming is still banned in many Indian states (3).
The country is emerging as the leader among the developing nations working towards restoring the centuries-old industrial crop. Uttarakhand government has become the first state in the country to issue a license for hemp farming to the IIHA, Indian Industrial Hemp Association to grow industrial hemp on a trial basis in 2018.
The permissions are limited to cultivate hemp for fiber for use in the textile industry. Uttar Pradesh is another state that has legalized hemp cultivation. Reports suggest that Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh are also eying their options to legalize hemp as a crop.
The state of Uttarakhand has come up with a scheme that allows companies and individuals to obtain four types of licenses – hemp farming, storage of raw materials, sales, transport. Uttarakhand government and private companies under a PPP model back several SHGs and farmer groups to develop the industry.
At present, hemp product manufacturers in the country depend on imports for raw hemp from North America, Europe, and China to produce mats, ropes, shoes, and bags. There are no restrictions on raw hemp procurement if they comply with the country’s phytosanitary guidelines.
There are only a few organizations in India that operate domestically, as the hemp industry is still in its nascent stages and limited by national regulations. These include startups such as BoHeCo, Bombay Hemp Company, The Health Horizons, Hempsters, Foxxy, GreenJams, Vedi, NHemp Co., and HempStreet. Health Horizons is studying to expand into the textile industry since the use of hemp for fibers exhibits excellent potential.
These startups are collaborating with each other to develop the domestic market for hemp-based multiple product innovations such as biofuels, hempcrete, and paper.
HempCo., a Bangalore-based startup, promotes industrial hemp cultivation in the southern states of the country. IIHA and several other companies and organizations are pushing towards spreading awareness about the plant and its capabilities. There has been an advancement in the country’s market because of these organizations’ efforts in raising perception on the distinction between hemp and marijuana, which is explicitly cultivated for personal psychoactive use.
There has been a surge in the need for hemp-based products and an increase in health consciousness as well. Making industrial hemp a requirement for expanding the markets, both international and domestic. India can quickly catch up with other countries, including China, in exporting hemp products to the US and Europe. It can be an alternative revenue stream for Indian farmers along with sustainable, eco-friendly product lines.
Hemp Ban and Legal Status in India
NDPS has banned the production and sale of cannabis flowers and resin since the mid-1980s in India. Until then, people were widely growing and harvesting hemp across the country.
The critical issue is that hemp comes from the same family of plants as marijuana. But it doesn’t have the same harmful effects as its notorious cousin. Notably, marijuana comes from a female Sativa plant containing psychoactive THC that some people consume to get ‘high.’ On the other hand, hemp has less than 0.3% THC and does not produce the same effect.
The United States, which had been a significant user of hemp products, banned it in the 1930s, apparently because of prominent industrialists’ pressure (4).
There has been a misconception around the possible effects of hemp. Unfortunately, India stands among the highest drug consumers, by numbers, next to the US, which has led to a ban on hemp cultivation.
While only a handful of states across India are allowing hemp cultivation, there is no bar on doing hemp research. One can quickly get a license for it pan India. However, if one defies the ban on its cultivation, it could attract burning/destroying the crops.
With the Indian Hemp Association’s formation and confident entrepreneurs’ pioneering efforts, there are encouraging signs for the Indian hemp industry.
Hemp in India Outlook
There are several ways hemp can contribute to the Indian economy. Let’s first think of the scenario. On the one hand, we have an excellent crop with the potential to rake millions of dollars in revenue. And on the other hand, we have farmers struggling to repay loans and are even opting to commit suicide. It is happening to several states across the country that can cultivate hemp.
Hemp – A Quality Fiber Source
All across the glove, cotton is the most preferred natural fiber, and India is no different. Compared to cotton, which needs about nine months to grow, hemp can grow up to 12 ft within only three to four months. Moreover, hemp consumers less water, a boon for water-starved India. It is also good at halting weeds and can be grown for multiple cycles.
Hemp – A Viable Paper Source
At present, the world is getting paper from timber trees. However, we can also make it from hemp, which offers tremendous advantages over conventional papers. For instance, hemp grown across one-acre land could produce as much paper as four acres of timber trees.
And since hemp has short yield cycles, we can produce more people from it at any given time. And last but not least, hemp papers are durable and more potent compared to conventional ones.
Hemp – A sustainable Concrete Alternative
Hemp could offer a sustainable alternative to concrete, considering the thrust of the Indian construction industry. Even though hempcrete is not in the same league as concrete, considering its functionality, it is pretty promising to bring down the operating costs (5).
Indian Startups Revitalizing Hemp Industry
At present, hemp is finding itself in the nucleus of a booming industry, shoes, food, paper, textiles, biofuels, and bioplastics. Hemp seed oil is a blessing for skin, and hemp fabrics are more durable and last longer than their counterparts. Several Indian companies are fast closing in on hemp’s multifaceted uses and are championing economy and sustainability with their hemp-based products.
Hemp Republic – Telangana
It aims to offer an environment to develop a symbiotic relationship between earth and humans. Since it is part of the nationwide hemp revolution, Hemp Republic caters to several consumers across the country with its hemp oils, fabrics, paper products, and powders (6).
Bombay Hemp Company, Mumbai
It is possibly one of the most popular hemp companies in the Indian market. BOHECO assists local farmers in cultivating the crop by offering optimum seeds and cultivation techniques. From there on, it ensures that it builds a sustainable model for economic, social impact, and the environment. It provides a variety of hemp products to explore (7).
Namrata Hemp Company
It aims to explore industrial hemp’s commercial and industrial potential as a multipurpose crop and offer meaningful consumer behavior changes via large-scale cultivation, retail trading, and industrial production of hemp and hemp products across the Indian continent. It offers hemp-based food protein powder, protein bars, cold-pressed hemp oil, flour, chocolates-fabric, and plastic alternatives (8).
It celebrates hemp seed oil like no other brand with a specialization in body oil. It offers it customer luxurious, natural, and utterly hand-made hemp products. Hempster offers all its products made with hemp seed oil, including its shower gels, soap bars, lotions, balms, and butter (9).
It is a hemp shop from Banglore which sources its raw material from the foothills of the Himalayas. It offers a range of the finest chemical-free skin and body care products made with hemp oil (10).
It works with the intersection between hemp and Ayurveda. Vedi aims at using utilizing hemp to help India find its ayurvedic roots. The company uses cannabis to make 100% vegetarian ayurvedic medicines that are healthy, safe, and sustainable (11).
GreenJams has combined green building, the practice of creating structures via environmentally responsible processes, with hemp to make hempcrete. GreenJams is paving its way to becoming the face of a revolution in the Indian infrastructure industry (12).
As the hemp market is taking off across the globe, rarer cannabinoids are also rising in popularity. Its examples include CBG, cannabigerol, often touted as the new CBD, and CND, the sedating cannabinol. However, presently available hemp market growth forecasts have not considered these.
As we discussed, CBD is a relatively prolific and well-researched cannabinoid with therapeutic use in a list of medical conditions such as cancer, pain, and neurological disorders.
Similar to marijuana, one can also smoke hemp. One can also ingest it, distill it in oil, or use it in topical creams to leverage the cannabinoid properties without the high.
And as the legislation and attitudes towards hemp are changing worldwide, the industry’s role is not slowing down. It is offering several opportunities for transfers to make millions in the booming market.
Smokable hemp is one of the fast-moving and most remunerative segments in the industry, with a forecast to achieve five times more growth in the upcoming five years (13).
CBN and CBG infused pre-rolls. Roll-your-own kits and bringing different strains d2c are all high-growth opportunities in the segment.
Edibles and Oils
While the interest in edible CBD products is surging, not all are made equal.
Entrepreneurs can compete in the market by focusing on high-quality edibles and oils. Product innovation could help one set apart from others as there are endless opportunities with gummies, drinks, snacks, etc.
One can also concentrate on product niches tailored and marketed to specific requirements – for instance, CBN products for sleep and CBG products for gut health (14).
Since CBG is cost-intensive and challenging to cultivate, firms have started focusing on alternative production methods as its popularity increases.
This January, Creo, a San Diego-based firm, announced that it had successfully produced CBG at scale via fermentation (15). The space is worth watching as the global market for fermented cannabinoids products is forecast to surge from 10 billion USD in 2025 to 115 billion USD by 2040.
Hemp-based CBD creams for inflammation, pain, and general skin are receiving high interest. According to Jungle Scout, hemp-based pain relief cream and Hempz whipped body cream make more than 364k and 328k per month, respectively, on Amazon.
Entrepreneurs could enter the growing space and incorporate CBG as its popularity booms.
Similar to edibles, the attraction for niching down is robust since current players target a broad market. One could focus on specific products for arthritis symptoms, aging, athletes, eczema, etc.
Topical cannabinoid for acne treatment is also likely to witness high growth as a niche as more promising research is published. Other opportunities include face and body washes, serums, masks, and even make-up lines.
One can conjugate cannabinoids to nanoparticles and allow for more targeted and effective treatment. Initial studies with therapy-resistant cancerous stem cells are pretty promising (16).
Apart from targeted medical therapy for a range of conditions, nano-cannabinoids are also set to shine in everyday use. Cannabinoid products produced via conventional oils or distillates tend to have inconsistent effects, which lead to highly-mixed product reviews. Nano-technology would allow consistent quality, increased bioavailability, and dosage level (17).
The use of nano-cannabinoids has the potential to set one’s product ranges apart from others. I’m
The pet-focused niche cannabinoid segment is also set to surge in the future. It is particularly appealing because the pet industry is notoriously recession-proof. Owners are also increasingly looking for ways for good health and extending their animals’ lives.
CBD treatment for animal arthritis and other aging issues is getting rapid traction. And lower regulatory hurdles in the pet segment may also work in favor (18).
The market for cannabinoid oils, creams, treats, and food for furry companions would be full of opportunities. Hemp oil for cats and dogs is already bringing in 91.6 USD per month on Amazon (19).
Hope for the Future
Considering India’s hemp cultivation potential, it can quickly catch up with other countries, including China, to export hemp products to the United States and Europe.
But the biggest challenge in the industry is that people are under the wrong conception that hemp can harm mental balance. And India needs to get rid of the stigma first to drive the hemp industry and move the economy.
The Indian hemp industry is still only coming into existence. It means that everyone involved in the space has a lot of work to do in growing the industry and reaching the world market with the several benefits hemp has to offer.