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Special Feature

The 'miracle crop' at the high table

  • from Shaastra :: vol 01 issue 02 :: Mar - Apr 2022

Scientists in India and elsewhere are looking at the many benefits of cultivating hemp. A lowdown on the 'miracle crop' that impacts sectors ranging from food and medicine to textile and automobiles.

The crop is ripe, and ready to be harvested in Lucknow's National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), a Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratory. Though it is illegal to grow this plant in most parts of the country, it has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of sectors, including the automobile, building, food, health and textile industries. And it has immense ecological benefits.

The plant is Cannabis sativa, from which marijuana is produced. But scientists are interested in certain varieties of cannabis in which the presence of the psychoactive compound - delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - is extremely low. Called industrial hemp, it yields a good quality of fibre, has seeds and oil rich in nutrition for the food and feed sector and a host of other benefits.

A study published in Science Advances journal last year claimed that humans living 12,000 years ago in present-day China had domesticated cannabis. The team, which included scientists from China's Lanzhou University and Switzerland's University of Lausanne, analysed genomes of 110 cannabis plants from around the world to find that early humans had cultivated the plant to make cloth and medicines. Cannabis and the less-potent hemp continued to be in use in many countries till it was banned worldwide a few decades ago because of abuse of the psychoactive substance, THC.

Only recently have countries once again started looking at the commercial benefits of hemp. China and many European and North American countries have approved the commercial cultivation of hemp and are harvesting it.


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