In Ancient China, hemp was used for making clothing, buildings, food, as well as medication. Its proven versatility even made it a well-suited, efficient crop similar to bamboo. Yet despite its ancient legacy, the output of hemp in China falls far behind that of cotton, wool and silk.
While there are supporters of the usage of hemp fiber and hemp derivatives in many products such as lotions and oils, the market is currently catering to a high-income, niche clientele. As such, the cultivation and use of hemp is fairly insignificant for a majority of Chinese society. The stigma attached to hemp also makes it difficult to market and sell, while its cousin, bamboo, has a large private industry dedicated to its cultivation, manufacturing and selling. This begs the question: what is the real difference between these two crops and what should we do about it?
In recent years, the bamboo market in China has seen a large boom, resulting in the demand for this product being much higher than the supply. This is problematic for two reasons: one being mass deforestation and another being that an oligopoly has driven up prices for the heavily-used material. Thousands of products are derived from bamboo (from bed linens to flooring), many of which can be substituted with materials derived from hemp crops. In simple economics, using hemp would increase competition within the industry, which in turn, has the potential to lower prices for the consumer.
One industry that could see major benefits from using hemp is the textile industry—more specifically in the clothing sector. Both bamboo and hemp are more versatile and reliable than cotton. They also take less effort to grow and produce a higher yield than their popular counterpart, meaning increased profitability and growth. This is good for job growth, fair pay and a number of other benefits that cannot be offered by small companies. In the end, by utilizing the resource, China could potentially see large growth in their textile-based economy.
Photo: Kevin Poh
As stated before, hemp and bamboo produce a higher yield than cotton and many other plant-based fibers grown in China. This is in part because hemp and bamboo require less water to grow and have antibacterial elements that reduce or eliminate natural pests. With China being the largest exporter of goods in the world, its use of natural resources is exponentially higher than that of many other countries. A problem related to this (or perhaps, caused by this) is the frequency of water shortages experienced in the country. Therefore, efficiently using scarce resources such as water should be a top priority, and cultivating hemp and bamboo crops are great ways to do so. This, of course, is not only due to total yield but also how much of the crop can be used and sold. When it comes to efficient investments, these crops are a huge benefit to the overall economy.
Better overall products
With all this focus on economic benefits, product creation and environmental concerns, there is still one thing companies need to think about: the end consumer. Hemp and bamboo provide superior natural products in comparison to many other resources. When it comes to getting the best bang for your buck, resources derived from the two plants provide durable textiles (and clothing comparable to cashmere), better fuel and many other common products that are better than what currently sits on store shelves. Better yet, they have the potential to eliminate a lot of waste that, both in and exported out of China.
With very little to lose and so much to gain, adding hemp to diversify the market in China could boost the overall economy and actually help both those who work for the industry and those who consume their products at national and international levels. By delegating natural resources more efficiently and eliminating problems such as pesticides and unsellable material, the two crops could help reduce the amount of wasted water and other critical resources. This, in turn, allows the consumer to buy products that are eco-friendly and reliable—at prices that are friendly to their wallets. It also gives us just one more reason to love marijuana.