Posted by: Dr. Tom Hoban | May 16, 2010

Hemp Holds Highest Hopes for Helping Haiti Rebuild Economy and Environment

As Haiti rebuilds its rural areas, value-added agriculture must play the central role.  There is a great need for sustainable and socially acceptable agricultural systems.  The foundation could include a the most versatile and useful crops known to humanity – namely industrial hemp and closely related  medical marijuana.  Compared to any alternative, these will provide much higher value per acre, while rebuilding the land and rural economy.

Haiti has an opportunity to supply a growing demand for hemp and ultimately medical marijuana.  This article explains the history, politics, and uses of hemp.  Hemp can currently be legally grown in every country of the world – except the United States.    Those hoping to help Haiti need to start working with Haitian farmers to implement a widespread hemp growing and processing program.  This will set the country up well for when the US finally ends the global war against medical marijuana.  Haiti has always prided itself in being a “Rebel Culture.”   Read more about the marijuana business and related policy issues. The widespread cultivation and value added production of industrial hemp will serve as an ideal model and “cover crop” for medical marijuana.

The history and benefits of hemp

The following article is from the San Diego Earth Times (January 1999.)  It is clear that Hemp has many benefits for the people and environment of Haiti and other developing countries.  The chart above indicates the wide range of high value products that come from this ancient and socially acceptable plant.

Hemp is the most useful and beneficial plant in nature.  Hemp is a sustainable, annual crop that is ready for harvest just 120 days after going to seed, compared to trees which take tens or hundreds of years to reach maturity. Further, harvesting hemp doesn’t destroy the natural habitats of thousands of distinct animal and plant species.

Because of the multitude of uses for hemp, the early Colonial American governments mandated its cultivation. Because of its length and strength, hemp fiber can be woven into natural advanced composites, which can then be fashioned into anything from fast food containers to skateboard decks to the body of a stealth fighter.  Because hemp is such a hardy plant, it can grow easily and abundantly almost anywhere, and can provide nutrition where other edible crops just won’t grow.

Hemp is another word for the plant Cannabis sativa L. Marijuana comes from this same plant genus – and so do broccoli and cauliflower. But the strains of hemp used in industrial and consumer products contain only a negligible level of the psychoactive substance  (THC.)  Thus, industrial grade hemp is not marijuana.

Hemp as food: Hemp seeds are drug-free and extremely nutritious. They can be eaten whole, pressed into edible oil like soybeans, or ground into flour for baking. They are one of the best sources of vegetable protein. They contain a full complement of essential amino acids and essential fatty-acids (EFA’s).

Hemp for body care – Hemp seed oil is perfectly suited for hair and skin care. Its nutritional value, combined with its moisturizing and replenishing EFA’s, make it one of the best vegetable body care foundations. Hemp seed oil’s EFA complement includes polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3, omega-6, omega-9, linoleic acid, and gamma linoleic acids (GLA’s).

Paper from hemp – The oldest printed paper in existence is a 100 percent hemp Chinese text dated to 770 AD. Thomas Jefferson drafted both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution on hemp paper.  Hemp’s cellulose level is almost three times that of wood, so it makes superior paper and yields four times as much pulp per acre as trees. The hemp paper process also utilizes less energy and fewer harmful chemicals (e.g., dioxins and chloroform.)

Hemp as fuel – Hemp seeds have provided a combustible fuel oil throughout human history. More importantly, though, the same high cellulose level that makes hemp ideal for paper also makes it perfect for ethanol fuel production. Ethanol is the cleanest-burning liquid bio-alternative to gasoline.

Hemp as plastic and paint – Hemp oil extract can also be used as an ingredient in nontoxic, biodegradable inks, paints, and varnishes. It is an ideal raw material for plant-based plastics such as cellophane as well as more recently developed cellulose-based plastics.  The plastic is much lighter than steel and can withstand ten times the impact without denting.

Hemp as textile fiber – Hemp is the longest and strongest plant fiber. It was the primary source of canvas, sail, rope, twine, and webbing fiber for hundreds of years before nylon was patented by DuPont in 1937. Hemp was used for clothing, military uniforms, ship’s rigging, shoes, parachute webbing, baggage, and much more.

Hemp replacing wood –
Fiberboard, or pressboard, is made by chipping trees into small pieces and then compressing the chips into boards using adhesives. This industry is so destructive because chip plants can use young immature trees, which are just as useful for pressboard as older trees. Hemp fiberboard is superior in strength and quality to the same product produced using trees.

Hemp as rotation crop and soil rejuvenator – Hemp is an ideal rotation crop for farmers worldwide. It puts down a taproot twelve inches long in only thirty days, preventing topsoil erosion. Its water requirements are negligible, so it doesn’t require much irrigation and will grow in arid regions. It matures from seed in only 120 days, so it doesn’t need a long growing season. Hemp’s soil nutrients concentrate in the plant’s roots and leaves. After harvest, the roots remain and the leaves are returned to the fields. In this way, soil nutrients are preserved.  It is very easy on the land. It doesn’t need many nutrients, so it doesn’t require chemical fertilizers. Hemp outcompetes other weeds, so it doesn’t need herbicides to thrive.

Environmental Benefits of Hemp

Haiti has some of the most devastated land and soil in the world.  There is a clear opportunity for hemp to rebuild the land faster than any other plant available.  This article is abstracted from the Natural Environment BLOG (January 31st, 2008)

Industrial hemp is gaining a lot of respect around the world for its amazing versatility and environmental benefits. Many companies are turning to hemp in order to make their products more sustainable and eco-friendly in general. Here are some of the major environmental benefits of growing hemp:

  • Fast and robust growth: Hemp grows extremely fast and can be grown in any climate, in any agronomic system
  • No herbicides/pesticides required: Hemp can be grown with no (or little) herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, or other biocides.
  • Suppresses weeds: Hemp is a natural weed suppressor due to the fast growth of the canopy. Actually, hemp is a weed. Because it grows so fast and densely, it blocks out sunlight to other weeds that are trying to grow.
  • Improves soil structure: Due to it’s long roots, hemp replenishes soil with nutrients and nitrogen and helps control erosion of topsoil. Also, once harvested, any residue can act as an eco-friendly manure.
  • Hemp produces lots of oxygen: Hemp produces the same amount of oxygen while it’s growing that it would use in carbon dioxide if burned as a fuel. Also, due to it’s leaf/root ratio (this can often be 10% roots vs 30% leaves), hemp can produce between 20% – 40% more oxygen than will be polluted.
  • Cleans up pollution: Hemp can actually clean up toxins from the ground. This process is called phyto-remediation. A good example of this is when hemp was used to help clean up the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site to remove radioactive elements from the ground.

Naturally, products made from hemp are 100% biodegradable, recyclable, and reusable. Also, the speed at which hemp grows can provide benefits regarding the resource requirements of the end product.

Original USDA Pamphlet explaining to US farmers how and why they should grow hemp in early 20th century.


The term industrial hemp refers to cannabis strains cultivated for non-drug usage. Industrial hemp is usually referred to, simply as hemp.   Currently, hemp is allowed to be grown virtually anywhere in the world – except the US. In the US hemp cultivation is now illegal. This is unfortunate given the enormous environmental benefits to be gained from industrial hemp.  Hemp wasn’t always illegal in America though. Here are some interesting facts about hemp laws and usage in the U.S.:

  • The first American flag was made from hemp.
  • The U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were drafted on hemp, and then copied onto parchment.
  • U.S. presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp.
  • Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that made hemp paper.

  • During the second world war, the U.S. government actually subsidized hemp.
  • During the Colonial Era and Early Republic, American farmers were legally bound to grow hemp.
  • In 1937, hemp cultivation was outlawed in the US.  This was due to the threat it posed to the emerging chemical industry (e.g., DuPont); as well as its close connection to marijuana recently made illegal.
  • Although it’s still illegal to grow hemp in the U.S., it’s not illegal to import or use products made from hemp.

Thomas Jefferson said “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country” AND
George Washington said, “Make the most of the Indian Hemp Seed and sow it everywhere!“

The Hemp Stem contains strong and versatle fibers.

The New Age of Hemp

Even though the US outlaws hemp production other countries have moved ahead quickly with production.  The also are conducting research and development activities that will benefit the Haitian environment and its people.

Hungary and Romania in Eastern Europe and China remain the largest growers of hemp and exporters of hemp products: hemp cordage, paper, rugs and textiles. But, during the 1990s, recognition of the qualities of hemp as a fiber has led to a worldwide resurgence in interest in the crop and subsidies have helped to develop a burgeoning industry in many countries. Much of the current research and commercial development programmes for hemp focus on its potential for paper manufacture but markets are emerging for it use as an insulation filler material, for composting mediums, animal litter and building materials that utilize the stem core. The strength and manufacturing qualities of hemp have also been recognized for its use in high matrix composites and injection moulded thermoplastics.

In the developing countries, Industrial Hemp is grown in Egypt and Thailand and large stands of naturalized Cannabis are grown in India for use in cordage, textiles and seed oil. Chile, once a major producer of hemp for the Spanish Conquistadors, continues to grow hemp on a limited basis for seed oil production: the seed is more nutritious (25% protein) and more easily digestible than soybean and contains more essential fatty acids than any other source.

Many landraces and cultivars of hemp have been grown around the world depending on the hemp products required and “varieties” can be divided into four basic categories: fibre hemp, seed hemp, mixed hemp (fiber and seed) and drug Cannabis. The success of hemp in tropical countries depends on the origin of hemp seed. Much of it is currently selected for growing in temperate regions but Hemp-Agro International, a private company located in Nicaragua and Canada, has successfully developed a tropical variety ‘Zolguanica ’95’, which was introduced in 1995. It was genetically created in conjunction with Ukranian and Chinese seed stock and 4,000 acres of this variety is planted in Nicaragua with two crops grown per year.

Trees of Hemp Grow Quickly and Rebuild the Land - Looks LIKE Marijuana (which is why the US government makes it illegal.)

More Details on Current Hemp Status from Wikipedia

Over 30 countries produce industrial hemp including Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Great Britain, France, Russia and Spain.  From the 1950s to the 1980s the Soviet Union was the world’s largest producer (3,000 km² in 1970). The main production areas were in Ukraine, the Kursk and Orel regions of Russia, and near the Polish border. Since its inception in 1931, the Hemp Breeding Department at the Institute of Bast Crops  Ukraine, has been one of the world’s largest centers for developing new hemp varieties, focusing on improving fiber quality, per-hectare yields, and low THC content.  Other important producing countries were China, North Korea, Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, France and Italy.

France is Europe’s biggest producer, with 8,000 hectares cultivated. Canada (9,725 ha in 2004,) the United Kingdom, and Germany all resumed commercial production in the 1990s. British production is mostly used as bedding for horses; other uses are under development. The largest outlet for German fibre is composite automotive panels. Companies in Canada, UK, US and Germany among many others process hemp seed into a growing range of food products and cosmetics; many traditional growing countries still continue to produce textile grade fibre.

Hemp is not legal to grow in the U.S. under federal law because of its relation to marijuana, and any imported hemp products must meet a zero tolerance level. It is considered a controlled substance. Some states have defied federal law and made the cultivation of industrial hemp legal. These states — North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, West Virginia, Vermont, and Oregon — have not yet begun to grow hemp because of resistance from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Hemp twine and roap are strongest all natural products. Every product from hemp is superior in many ways to the current products we use - especially those based on oil.

Haiti’s earthquake: agriculture the key to recovery

I have written more about the importance of agriculture and rural development for the future of Haiti’s environment and economy.  The following article highlights some key challenges and opportunities in this area.

Even before the earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January, half the population suffered from malnutrition, three-quarters survived on less than US$2 a day, and 60 percent of the country’s food was imported. Vulnerable also to hurricanes and flooding, losses and damage to the agricultural sector during 2008 were estimated at US$200 million. But, with an increase in agricultural production of 15 per cent in 2009, Haitian agriculture was showing signs of recovery. Now, with rising food prices, widespread displacement of people, and disruption of trade and agricultural activities as a result of the quake, Haiti is once again facing a major food crisis.

Limited access to good quality seeds, high levels of environmental degradation and poor soil quality, resulting from heavy deforestation and poor watershed management, all seriously constrain agricultural productivity in Haiti.  …

Distribution of tools and fertilizers, establishing emergency seed stocks, promoting agroforestry and improving food processing and marketing activities were also initiated. According to FAO, Haitian agriculture was in the grip of a renaissance before the disaster struck, showing recovery is possible.  …

The scale of the task is highlighted by Léogâne, a farming town located at the epicentre of the earthquake, which was almost completely destroyed. Vital infrastructure, including feeder roads, storage facilities and irrigation canals sustained damage, and many farmers lost tools, seeds and food under the debris. …

In addition to implementing an emergency cash-for-work scheme to remove earthquake and landslide debris from blocked irrigation channels, FAO has been distributing much needed tools, fertilizers and quality seeds. For the estimated 1 million people living in informal camp sites, FAO is setting up urban and peri-urban mobile gardens to provide much needed food and boost nutrition.  For every US$1 invested in agriculture, FAO estimates that US$40-60 worth of food will be produced, sufficient to feed one family for several months. …

Rehabilitating the agricultural sector is a major priority for the Haitian government, which has drawn up a US$700 million investment plan for the next 18 months. This includes immediate interventions for the spring planting season, including the request for 2,000 tonnes of seeds, but also covers the rehabilitation of feeder roads and irrigation channels, reforestation, protection of watersheds, and the re-launch of a program to encourage sweet potato cultivation. …

According to FAO, the long term priorities include improving natural resource management, food security and nutrition. In order to continue to reduce dependence on imports, FAO will continue to implement ongoing projects to strengthening farmers’ organizations to improve their capacity to multiply quality bean, vegetable, maize, rice and sorghum seeds. Promotion of fruit trees such as mangoes, avocados and banana to reforest Haiti and provide food and income will also continue.

“Agriculture plays a key role in the solution to the Haiti crisis,” Jones emphasizes. “If people can find better livelihoods in rural areas, this would be a long-term solution to many social problems. But this means we really need to scale up our efforts.”

Haiti on left and Dominican Republic on right.


  1. […] and devastated natural resources.  One quick way that Haitian agriculture could thrive is by growing hemp and the closely-related medical marijuana plant. Along with other high value crops (e.g., avocados, mangoes and more) cannabis should be a reasonable […]

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