Hemp touted to be a billion-dollar industry in the West has so far received little recognition in India because it is often confused with marijuana. But inside a cluttered office in one of Lower Parel's mill compounds, is a company dreaming of another green revolution. They are the team that runs India's first industrial hemp startup Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO).
Sanvar Oberoi, one of the cofounders said that the textile ministry claims industrial hemp fibre can rake in a potential revenue of approximately Rs 240 crore annually.
Unlike a small town in Australia that runs entirely on hemp, there is little consumption of hemp in India. Locals in north India use it in their food and to make fibres. And at BOHECO's windowless office, several hemp-based products can be found. Under a table lie a couple of cream canvas hemp shoes that are still in the works; in one corner lies a neatly packaged crisp, white hemp shirt ready for shipment; bottles of hemp seed oil sit beside packets of hemp seeds.
According to Romesh Bhattacharji, former narcotics commissioner of India and an advisor to BOHECO, hemp is made from the non-psychoactive variety of Cannabis Sativa L., having less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gives most of marijuana's psychological effect. "Hemp is created from the stalk and seed and is a non-narcotic and non-excisable duty item, not from the bud and leaf which are used to make psychotropic substances.
As per the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, mass cultivation of cannabis for horticultural and industrial uses is permitted by law. And so, several entities have come forward to support this unique venture. It is now part of the Social Innovation Acceleration Program (SIAP) by Marico Innovation Foundation, has received support by the Ashoka Foundation Fellowship, INK Fellowship, Rajeev Circle Fellowship and also an acknowledgement by Stanford University for research.
Closer home, BOHECO has cofounded the Innovation Centre for Natural Fibres (ICNF) with the National Institute of Design. Most recently, BOHECO was the only hemp startup representing India at the World Hemp Congress in Slovenia.
BOHECO currently works with 25 farmers and their families across Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and parts of Punjab. They collect hemp fibre from the wild to further process it into fabric which is used for shirts, shoes, upholstery, in their clothing line The Hemp Couture (THC).
According to Suman Sahai, founder of the Gene Campaign and an advisor to BOHECO, the long-term solution for integrating hemp is through development of Indian seeds. BOHECO has received the first licence to develop hemp seeds in India in partnership with a government entity. By 2017, they should have their own seeds, said cofounder Yash Kotak.
For more information please visit https://boheco.org/
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