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Hemp Instead Of Cotton

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Cotton cultivation is a disaster for the environment and the farmers who grow cotton don't see many benefits from their labour. However, if researchers at the Netherlands' University of Wageningen get their way, things will be very different in a few years' time thanks to the new varieties of hemp they have created.

There's a small field of hemp less than ten kilometres east of Wageningen, but it doesn't look very promising. The plants have all been chopped down and have been left, exposed to the elements, rotting on the ground.

Even though the hemp field doesn't look very prepossessing, the investigators from Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) are extremely pleased with the crop, as this new hemp variety may be able to break cotton's monopoly position as the textile crop of choice. Leaving the hemp to rot is simply part of the production process.

Visitors to Dr Ton den Nijs' office - a plant researcher at WUR - are invited to try on the jeans that are draped over the desk. At first glance, the jeans do not appear to be particularly unusual. However, the fabric is strong yet supple and once you have them on, they are remarkably comfortable.

Fibre crops
The secret behind these jeans is that they are almost entirely made from hemp. It's not the hemp variety that you get high from but hemp as a fibre crop. The plant is doesn't contain a single milligram of THC, the main psychoactive substance found in hashish and marijuana.

According to the WUR researchers, the disadvantages of cotton production should mean that farmers the world over will be more than eager to seize on the hemp variety they have created. Dr Den Nijs explains:

"It takes an enormous amount of water to produce a cotton crop. Farmers have to use vast amounts of pesticides and herbicides to grow it. Basically, huge amounts of chemicals are necessary in order to produce a decent cotton crop. Hemp is entirely different; it can be grown in more marginal areas and needs very little in the way of pesticides or herbicides in order to produce a decent crop. Furthermore, it needs far, far less water than cotton".

Dr Den Nijs's comment is a prime example of scientific understatement: an acre of cotton needs 25 times more water than an acre of hemp.

But there are more disadvantages to cotton. The entire chain of production is in the hands of multinationals. They pay the cotton farmers starvation wages and transport the crop across the globe in order to rake in the cash elsewhere.

Dr Den Nijs' example illustrates a bizarre reality:

"Cotton has to be spun and then woven into the fabric. A lot of that work is done in the Netherlands. Ghanaian cotton is transported to the Netherlands and the fabric produced here, with all the beautiful traditional Ghanaian patterns, is sometimes exported back to Ghana".

The WUR plant biologists have developed a number of hemp varieties with a fibrous structure that can compete with cotton. The next step, the development of a simple and affordable device to transform the raw hemp into fabric, is already being worked on.

Controlling the process
The idea is that farmers in the developing world who switch from producing cotton to hemp also produce the fabric locally. Farmers can earn far more if they grow the hemp, harvest it, turn it in to a workable fibre, spin it, weave it, dye it and then produce fabric.

According to Dr Den Nijs, even if hemp does become a standard crop, it is highly unlikely that multinationals will start transporting it across the world. Because growing hemp and turning it into fabric is, in principle, a low-tech operation, farmers can do it all themselves. And once the production line is up and running it will be quite difficult for third parties to take over.

The researchers hope that hemp jeans, and other items of clothing, will be available in ordinary clothes shops in about five years' time.

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News Hawk: User: 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Author: Thijs Westerbeek
Copyright: 2008 Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Contact: Radio Netherlands Worldwide - English
Website: Hemp instead of cotton - Radio Netherlands Worldwide - English
 
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