Industrial hemp might be used in Bangladesh as a cotton substitute while jute is struggling

SM Abdullah Al Mamun

Once known as ‘golden fiber’ jute has lost its glory over the past decades in Bangladesh due to corruption, industrial mismanagement and a decline in global demand. Despite having versatility in usage, jute was never suited for apparel fabric for its coarse fiber. As a result, Bangladesh has to rely extensively on imported cotton, placing it 1st globally in terms of raw cotton imports, which totaled over $1.01 billion in 2020. Currently, China and East African countries are the primary sources of raw cotton for Bangladesh. In a decade or so, Bangladesh might face scarcity in raw cotton as apparel industries backed by Chinese investment are booming in Africa. So it is time we limit our cotton dependency and look for a sustainable substitute. Industrial hemp can be a game changer here.

The table below shows a general contrast between hemp and cotton cultivation:

Cotton        VS Hemp
Cotton needs twice as much land as hemp.ProductionHemp produces twice as much fiber per acre.
Cotton needs 9.758 L of water to grow 1 kg of fiber.Water DemandHemp only needs 2.13 L water to produce 1 kg of fiber.
Cotton pollutes water and leaves land scorched due to its high pesticide use.Land DegradationHemp can be grown on the same land for 14 years straight without land depletion or yield reduction.
Cotton accounts for 25% of all pesticide use worldwide.Pesticide UseHemp requires no pesticide and is a natural weed deterrent.
Cotton fiber is significantly less durable than hemp.Fiber DurabilityHemp fiber is 4 times more durable than cotton.
Cotton can only be used to produce fabric.Other usagesPaper, medicinal oil, biochar, carpets, etc. can also be produced from the by-products of hemp.

The use of hemp in producing clothes and paper can be traced back even before the birth of Christ. Hemp is now grown in many countries including the USA, Canada, and China under government supervision. Agro-economists often consider hemp not only to be the most profitable cash crop on Earth but also one of the most sustainable ones.

Despite containing trace amounts of THC, cultivation, transport, and sale of all forms of cannabis including hemp is currently banned in Bangladesh under Narcotics Control Act 1990.  It is time we step out of the stereotypical views against hemp and legalize the crop to support our apparel industries sustainability in the competitive global market. 

It’s time to scrap the stigmatizing views against hemp and legalize the crop to help our garments industries sustain themselves in the global marketplace with glory.

(The writer is a Research Associate (GIS & Environment) at Biomedical Research Foundation, Bangladesh;


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