REPORT #61 April 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust
The Reporter, April 25, 1999
by Meb Cutlack

A long time ago, the country of Bangladesh was one of the richest countries in Asia. Bangladesh grew Cannabis Sativa, or Indian Hemp as it was known, and produced and exported from this prodigious and fast growing weed, everything from rope to clothing, paper, and mineral and edible oils.

Today this same Country is the basket case of Asia.

What happened?

The answer is simple. Along came the U.S.A. and Britain and declared that Cannabis could no longer be grown because it might contain an element of drug marijuana. This "terrible" drug that Bangladesh was growing could, they insisted, destroy the western world.

This was totally erroneous because the hemp grown in Bangladesh contained less than I % of THC while marijuana usually contains up to 14% THC.

Well, that didn't matter! The rich and rewarding hemp plantations of Bangladesh were wiped out and the country's economy crashed and has never recovered. That was in the 1930's and, apart from a quick flurry of growing in the USA for the second world war when the U.S. Navy needed Hemp, succeeding U.S. administrations have, until now, seen to it that nobody, anywhere, grows hemp.

Well, times are a-changing!

Canada, many countries in Europe and Asia, Australia and even the island of Hawaii are now growing industrial hemp - and 17 other U.S. States have legislation pending to grow hemp. It is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, and stretches from the fashion catwalks of London, Paris and New York to humble industrial workshops in the Philippines and India.

Belize can, with little effort and relatively minor capital input, quickly lead the way in hemp production throughout the Americas. Hemp waste can help power generation plants at both of Belize's northern sugar mills.

At the same time, hemp seed can be harvested as a valuable export crop and hemp cloth and fibre can be used in a hundred different cottage and small, capital-intensive industries throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Hemp farming can be as small or as large as each individual or group desires. It can take LIP two acres (as a backyard project to produce hand-prcssed paper and oil for hand-made soap or perfume), a 10 to 100 acres cooperative (to make building boards, hard boards, oils, cloth and rope), or expand to a small capital intensive industry to provide biomass for electricity, produce marketable and exportable goods as above and branch into hemp seed cake for animal feed, a hemp paper mill, and replace all plastics and even make a light-weight type of concrete for construction.

Hemp facts:

  • Hemp fiber is stronger and lasts longer than almost any other natural fibre.
  • Until 1883 at least 80% of all paper in the world was made from hemp.
  • Hemp was the world's largest single industry up until the middle of 1800.
  • From 1942 to 1945, U.S. farmers and their sons who grew hemp were excused from serving in the Military.
  • Hemp yields more than four times as much sustainable pulp per acre as timber and its use could save the world's forests.
  • Each ton of paper made from hemp can save 12 mature trees. Prohibition of hemp has led to the destruction of some 70% of' U.S. forests since 1937.
  • Fabrics made from hemp are stronger, more insulating, more absorbent and last longer than fabrics from cotton.
  • Hemp seed can be used to make fuel or cooking oil or evenbeer. It is as nutritious as Soya but is more digestible, gives higher yields and is easier to harvest.
  • Hemp seed cake could replace all imports into Belize of cattle and poultry feed..
  • Hemp pulp and fibre offer a completely biodegradable alternative to plastic.
  • Hemp can make building planks and boards for construction. It is immune to termites, and in France a hemp product called "Isochanvre" has been used to replace concrete in construction of hundreds of houses.

    Hemp has over 25,000 different uses and "offers a basis for economic health and sustainable exports" for Belize. Hemp's strong roots anchor and invigorate the soil, it controls erosion, requires only mild fertilizers and not the chemicals and pesticides that corn, cotton, tobacco, bananas, citrus and sugar need and that now pollute our drinking water.

    The hemp industry is in its infancy and probably growing faster than anything except tourism. France last year harvested more than 200,000 tons of hemp seed and fibre and this year is expected to almost double this production.

    Belize is today in a unique position to start up a hemp industry.

    It has the two northern sugar mills, which can turn hemp waste into a biomass material for electricity production at a competitive cost with Mexican electricity, and lower than from the hydro dam. It has a growing garment trade (exports of more than $17 million in 1997) and wood and plastic processing plants that can cheaply be adapted to produce hemp building planks and boards for local construction and for export.

    Hemp grows between 6 to 10 feet in height in just 9 weeks, is easy to harvest by hand or machine and, with its unique root structure, it is a natural defense against the sort of storm and hurricane erosion that devastated Honduras and Nicaragua during Mitch.

    The U.S.A has called the shots in the 'Banana War' and this will virtually destroy the banana industry throughout the Caribbean.

    In three years Belize will also lose its preferential rate for sugar in world markets. Now and not later is the time to move quickly and start a hemp industry that is not rooted in colonial history, trade favors, and subject to U.S. dictates, but which is wholly Belizean and self-sustaining.

    The Bad News Item of the Week: I hope that it is not true, that somebody close to government has threatened the editor of the Cayo Trader saying she "could be deported."

    The strength of Belizean democracy lies in the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press that exists here.

    Back to Main Belize Development Trust Page

    Maintained by Ray Auxillou, Silvia Pinzon, MLS, and Marty Casado. Please email with suggestions or additions for this Electronic Library of Belize.