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Hemp for fibre, food and fuel

See also:
See also: Marijuana, Medicine, Religion, Law
See also: Industrial Hemp in Japan
See also: Old woodcuts about hemp farming
See also: Miasa village in Nagano prefecture
See also: Hemp farming in the mountains of Gunma new article!

Hemp harvest in Miasa Mura, 
Nagano prefecture
Hemp harvest in Nagano

Flexible and environmentally friendly
Hemp is one of the most versatile plants known to mankind. Its fibres can be used for textiles and ropes or made into paper. Its seeds are a valuable food rich in unsaturated oils, which can also be used as fuel. Hemp requires few pesticides as it quickly outgrows any weeds. It leaves the soil clean for other crops. When hemp stalks are dew-retted in the fields most nutrients are returned to the soil for the next crop.

Hemp for textiles
When in the middle of the 19th century in California Levi Strauss invented the original jeans he made them from hemp canvas because it was the most durable textile available. Hemp could replace many uses of cotton, which uses 50% of all agrochemicals used in the USA. Unlike cotton hemp grows in many climate zones, from the tropics to subarctic conditions. It will grow anywhere in Japan, from Okinawa to Hokkaido. From the Jomon era until the late 18th century, when imported British and American cotton took over, hemp linen clothed the Japanese masses.

Hemp oil for food and fuel
Hemp oil is so versatile that it can be used instead of diesel fuel or you can fry tempura in it. Before petroleum and electric lightbulbs, lamps burning hemp seed oil illuminated homes around the world. One ha of seed hemp produces about 1000-1500 litres of hemp oil plus several thousand kg of cellulose-rich fibre. One ha of fibre hemp produces about 8000-11000 kg of dry biomass.

As a renewable resource from living plants hemp does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. The growing plants absorb as much CO2 as will later be released when oil or other plant matter is burnt. Unlike fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) or nuclear fuels hemp could supply us with raw materials for thousands of years, without ever changing our climate and without producing waste that remains radioactive for millions of years.

Hemp for paper
Hemp is an excellent archival material, for use in paintings and books. Most famous paintings are painted with hemp oil on hemp linen. In ancient China the art of making paper from hemp (and mulberry bark) was guarded as a state secret, but eventually the knowledge found it's way to Japan, and also to Europe via the Arabs. In 1390 the first European mill processing hemp rags into paper was founded. In 1455 Gutenberg printed the first printed book in Europe on hemp paper. The first two drafts of the U.S. Declaration of Independence were written on Dutch hemp paper.

Traditional Japanese paper (washi) was made from hemp and mulberry fibre. Nowadays hemp is virtually unavailable for this purpose though a limited supply of hemp paper has been manufactured in Tochigi recently. Hemp and mulberry paper are also used for ritual strips of paper decorations used at Shinto shrines. Japan imported the recipe for paper making from China where most paper still contains hemp today.

Only around 1850 did paper from wood pulp start to replace hemp. Trees were cheap, but now they are rapidly getting depleted. Over a period of 20 years one hectare (ha) of hemp can produce as much paper as four hectares of forest. Japan still imports much of its wood pulp from tropical rainforests which are being destroyed at an alarming rate.

Hemp is coming back
Today hemp is staging a comeback, used by fashion designers and mass producers alike. In addition to established producers such as China, Romania, Hungary and France hemp crops are now also grown in Australia, Canada, Britain and Germany where for decades there had been none. It is legally cultivated in at least 30 countries around the world, including every G-7 country. Even in the USA an experimental crop is being grown in Hawaii under a government license.

While processing is established for historical uses, innovative applications are being investigated. Hemp is used for products as diverse as car dash boards or panels (BMW, Audi, Cadillac) and horse bedding. Hemp fibre has excellent sound proofing qualities and is extremely water resistant. It has many applications in the construction industry where its use helps prevent deforestation. Hemp stalks can be made into plywood and chipboard and hemp hurds are a good insulation material.

Hemp seeds are a good source of protein and one of of the highest quality vegetable oils (rich in unsaturated fats). Unsterilised hemp seeds are sold as bird feed in Japan. Hemp seeds are also still contained in shichimi, the spice mix used with ramen noodle soup. They can be used in place of flour or tofu.

Industrial hemp in Japan
Mr. Nakayama who has a hemp farm in Shizuoka produces hemp seeds for use in cosmetics. Others want to produce seeds for use as food. Currently it is very difficult to cultivate hemp in Japan as that requires a licence and many prefectural governments have not issued any new licences for a long time. Many other countries (for example, Germany, Austria and Switzerland) do not require any licenses for farmers to grow hemp. Current Japanese industrial hemp regulations far exceed what is required by United Nations drug treaties that Japan has ratified. These treaties specifically exempt hemp grown for non-drug use from any required controls:

1. If a Party permits the cultivation of the cannabis plant for the production of cannabis or cannabis resin, it shall apply thereto the system of controls as provided in article 23 respecting the control of the opium poppy.

2. This Convention shall not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fibre and seed) or horticultural purposes.

1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

In 1950 a total of 4049.2 ha of hemp was grown in Japan, employing 25,118 farmers. By 1996 licenses for only 12.4 ha (31 acres) of hemp were issued by prefectural governments, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture. Most of that hemp, 12.0 ha (30 acres), was grown in Tochigi prefecture, about 50 km north of Tokyo. The most common low-THC breed is called "Tochigishiro" which was developed by the Tochigi Agricultural Experiment Station (See Institutes in our hemp address list).

There were only 102 licensed hemp farmers left in the entire country by 1999.

Japan suffers a problem from having protected its food markets against foreign competition. It is under immense pressure to open its farm markets as it vitally depends on equally open industrial markets abroad for its exports. When rice imports displace domestic production, some Japanese rice farmers will have to switch to other crops. Hemp also grows well in areas where tobacco or mulberry (for silk) are still cultivated. It is well suited to the Japanese climate, is environmentally friendly and currently faces no U.S. competition.

See also:
See also: Industrial Hemp in Japan (1999)
See also: University of Kentucky: Economic Impact of Hemp (USA)
See also: Hemp in British Columbia (Canada)
See also: WestHemp (BC) Cooperative (Canada)
See also: Hemp in Germany (in German!)
See also: has a great 16 page brochure to print out.
See also: The Ohio Hempery is one of the oldest hemp businesses in the USA.
See also: The Hemp Food Association


  • Hemp Today, by Ed Rosenthal. ISBN 0-932551-14-9, published by Quick Trading Company, Oakland, $19.95. A good overview of all aspects of the global non-recreational hemp industry.

  • The Emperor wears no Clothes, by Jack Herer. ISBN 1-878125-02-8, Queen of Clubs Publishing. $24.95. A good primer into the history of hemp prohibition.


  • Hempen Road, by Eiji Masuda and Dave Olson. $25.00
    Hemp in the Pacific Northwest, from Canada to California.

    HempenRoad HQ
    2103 Harrison NW, Ste. 2756
    Olympia, Washington
    Cascadia, USA
    phone: +1 (360) 705.3804

  • Hemp for Victory, by US Department of Agriculture, 1942. H.E.M.P, 5632 Van Nuys Blvd., Suite 210, Van Nuys, CA 91401. Video included with annual membership, $20.00. A documentary made about hemp by the US Department of Agriculture during WW2, encouraging American farmers to grow hemp for the war.

    If you have RealVideo then you can watch Hemp for Victory online at the Legalize! USA website.

    Note: This video is also available on the Taima-CD ROM. Contact us for details.

  • See also:
    See also: Hemp in religion, as a "drug", as medicine.

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