Three years ago, I was in Poland representing a client in negotiating a license for industrial hemp seed varieties from the world’s leading hemp institute — The Polish Institute of Natural Fibers and Medicinal Plants. We were staying in a historic hotel in Poznan, a city of around 550,000 people; one of Poland’s oldest and largest cities. Having trouble sleeping, I decided to go for a late-night stroll. Across the street was an old, run-down building, a Synagogue built in the early 1900s. During WWII, it was taken over by German soldiers who turned it into barracks and built a swimming pool. Eighty years later, it was just the way they left it, a standing reminder of the destruction and violence the war unleashed. For the Polish people, it remains a symbol of resilience for a country that’s rebuilt itself many times throughout history. 

A number of companies from around the world have approached Poland’s Institute of Natural Fibers and Medicinal Plants in Poznan, the oldest hemp institution in the world, in an effort to license their highly-sought-after hemp fiber varieties. I was there accompanying HLG client, International Hemp Solutions (IHS), a large global hemp supply chain company, which owns Bija Hemp, North America’s leading certified hemp seed provider. 

The spirit of partnership forged between the Institute and IHS has flourished in the years since my first visit, leading to the licensing of hemp fiber varieties Bialobreskie and Henola, which are now growing in American soil, and in several other international replication locations.  Today, this relationship has blossomed into a public-private partnership with the Institute, spurring international exposure, investment, and additional resources to expand their hemp fiber research program and to support its research overall. 

Why Poland?

I’ve been asked many times, “Why Poland? Why is Poland leading the world’s hemp research?” 

In his Republic, Plato put forth the notion that necessity is the mother of invention, as true in ancient Greece as in 20th Century Europe.  

The precursor to the Polish Institute was created between the two World Wars, in 1930, by the Linen Society of Vilnius. Among the first experimental research stations in Europe, it pioneered and introduced standardized flax fiber varieties, while also experimenting with other optimal fiber plants and one in particular – hemp. 

The Second World War devastated the workshops and almost destroyed the research progress, but one professor managed to save and store valuable breeding materials and transported them to Poznań. He continued the tradition of fiber research and established the Institute’s new home. Shortly after WWII, the Institute began conducting extensive research and breeding programs for hemp fiber, and today has the rights to nearly 100 varieties of hemp. 

Additionally, the Institute acquired some of the legendary Russian seed bank when the Soviet Union fell. This included varieties of seed from all over the planet, collected during the Cold War while the Soviet Union was expanding its global empire. 

While in Poznan, I saw a beautiful picture at the Institute of a massive, 40-foot hemp plant that resembled  a tree — a reminder of hemp’s importance in the history of Poland. 

When you strip away the social and political considerations that’s kept nations like the U.S. on the sidelines of utilizing hemp as an agricultural commodity, you can see why a country that’s been battered by the East and West throughout history would be motivated to recognize and use hemp’s almost endless potential. Its protein can be saved in food storages and when faced with the challenge of rebuilding entire cities in a matter of decades, you’d be challenged to find a more robust, easy-to-grow source of fiber and biomass for construction.

Last week, I traveled to Poland again to further the partnership between IHS and the Polish Institute.  And it was exciting and humbling to work with such a historic institution bridging hemp’s past with hemp’s enormous future.