Towards boosting the economy: grow hemp


To fashion practitioners, hemp is just one of the natural fibres available to them. Outside the industry, some consumers may be aware of the exceptional properties of this dress fabric. Few, however, know of the many other uses of the super crop, and its potential benefit to the economy of this country.

Most people confuse hemp with marijuana (dagga). Both are of the Cannabis Sativa family; hemp is Cannabis Sativa Sativa, and its naughty cousin is Cannabis Sativa Indica.

The differences between hemp and marijuana

  • Hemp contains very little THC (the psychoactive ingredient in dagga), less than 0.3%, compared to 5 -25% in marijuana. So smoking your socks will not get you high!
  • Hemp is the strongest plant fibre known, whereas marijuana fibres are short and brittle and not really suitable for industrial use.
  • Hemp grows upwards like bamboo, reaching heights of 7 meters. Marijuana is a shorter, squat plant of ± 1.5m.
  • Marijuana has broader leaves than hemp.
  • Hemp has numerous uses, while marijuana is only used medicinally.

Uses of hemp


Hemp seeds are valuable as a food supplement

The stalk can be divided into the bast fibres, and the woody core. From the fibres we get textiles for clothing, bags, shoes, rope, canvas and carpeting. The core is used to produce paper and cardboard, building materials such as fibre board and hempcrete, and industrial products including mulch and chemical absorbents. The whole stalk can be used as biofuel, and biodegradable plastic can also be manufactured from it.

The seeds are high in protein (25%) and are used as food supplements, as well as in bread, cereal and granola. In compressed form, it is used as animal feed.

Hemp seed contain 34% more oil than any other seed and more Omega3’s than walnuts. Hemp oil is used as food, in the cosmetics industry, and in technical products such as paint, lubricant, ink and diesel fuel.

Ecological benefits of hemp

The hemp plant grows quickly; it needs only four months from planting to harvest and between 250 and 400 individual plants can be grown per square metre. It is drought resistant, requiring far less water than cotton. Unlike other crops, it does not need to be sprayed with pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.  It pulls harmful chemicals from the soil and due to its deep root system and high density, it stabilises erosion and chokes weeds. It returns 60% of nutrients it absorbs to the soil and is highly suitable as a rotation crop.


Socio-Economic advantages to be gained from growing hemp


Hempcrete house built by Tony Budden in Noordhoek, Cape Town

Hemp is a fairly undemanding crop to grow, and so ideal for small farmers to make a living from. An agricultural co-operative system can be introduced to regulate supply and marketing matters.

In all, more than 25 000 products can be manufactured from hemp, creating the potential for new factories and many job opportunities.

Hempcrete, a strong building material made from hemp and lime, will go a long way towards alleviating South Africa’s pressing housing shortage.

The climate of the Western and Eastern Cape regions is highly suitable for growing hemp. Add to this that the rural areas of these provinces are crying out for sustainable economic activities, maintaining the status quo re hemp cultivation appears extremely short-sighted if not downright immoral.

Canada currently leads the way, but New Zealand and even the USA are beginning to consider revising their stance in the light of resulting benefits.


In 2010 South African company House of Hemp became the first private company to be awarded a 6 year exclusive permit from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health to legally cultivate and process hemp in South Africa. Although they established a number of hemp farms across the country, the full potential of this industry is still far from being realized.


I think we can all agree it is ridiculous that the words “Product of China” has to appear on a packet of hemp seed sold as nutritional supplement in South Africa. The crop should be deregulated, and opportunities to enter the market opened up to all South Africans. We in the rag trade will certainly benefit from hemp fabric becoming available at a reasonable price!