Developing regions around the world have a renewed focus on the establishment of broad-based plant-centric economies.  But not just any plant will do.  To form a plant-based economy, even on a micro or regional scale, it is essential that the plant is versatile; that it can first provide viable sources of protein and other essential nutritional components.  Beyond that, it is essential that the plant also serves other functions necessary for daily life.  And finally, one that is able to create a cascade of jobs to support local supply chain economies based around that very same plant.  Industrial Hemp presents perhaps the best case for the establishment of a plant-based economy.  Hemp is one of the most useful plants on Earth.

For thousands of years, humans have used parts of the hemp plant for food, textiles, paper, fabric, and fuel oil. Today, modern processing technologies have made it possible to create alternatives to gasoline, plastic, and other petroleum products that can help the human race lessen its reliance on polluting and expensive fossil fuels.  The hemp plant is a renewable resource that can be produced domestically. It grows quickly, naturally resists plant diseases, requires little weeding, thrives in most climates, and enriches the soil it grows in. Here are some of its most important applications:

Food and Nutrition
Hempseeds and hemp oil are highly nutritious and delicious. Hempseeds are an excellent source of protein, minerals, and dietary fiber. Hemp is the only plant that contains all of the essential fatty acids and amino acids required by the human body. These essential nutrients affect a variety of body functions, including metabolism, skin, mood, behavior, the brain, and the heart.

Many people eat fish and take fish oil supplements to get these essential fats, however concerns around overfishing and the chemical contamination of modern fish have made many choose to switch to hemp instead. It is an especially excellent option for vegetarians.

Hemp is also good for animals, and some veterinarians recommend including it in the diets of pets and livestock. In Europe, fishermen sprinkle hempseed on the water as an effective bait. When hempseed is included in birdseed, songbirds will pick it out of the mix as they prefer it over other seeds.

Hemp foods are becoming more and more popular as the public discovers the nutritional benefits and culinary uses of hemp.

Body Care
Due to its high content of beneficial oils and natural emollient properties, hemp is becoming a common ingredient in lotions and many other skin, hair, and cosmetic products. It is a good alternative to the toxic chemicals present in many petroleum-based lotions and cosmetics.

Hemp is an ideal material for making paper. It regenerates in the field in months (unlike trees which can take 30 years or more to become harvestable after planting.) Moving towards the use of hemp for paper can help save the world’s forests.

Historically, hemp has been used to make paper for thousands of years. It makes a fine quality paper that is naturally acid-free and does not become yellow and brittle or disintegrate over time like conventional paper.

Fabric, Textiles, and Rope
Hemp can be used to make a variety of fabrics, similar to but more durable than cotton. Hemp is also excellent for making rugs and other textiles. The word canvas comes from the Latin word for hemp.

The oldest known woven fabric was made from hemp, as were Levi Strauss’ original denim jeans, and the first American flag. It was a common material for clothing until the cotton industry gained strength in America.

Hemp is the traditional rope making fiber due to its flexibility, strength, and resistance to water damage. In past centuries, hemp was extremely important to the Navy, the shipping trade, and fishing because it was used to make ropes, riggings, nets, and sails.

For centuries, Hemp oil was used as lamp oil. It began to be phased out in America in the 1870s when petroleum was introduced.  Today, hemp oil can be used to create biofuels to replace gasoline for diesel engines. Unlike fossil fuels, biofuels are renewable and produce less of the greenhouse gas carbon monoxide.

Plastic Alternatives
Standard plastic is made from fossil fuels using toxic chemicals. Almost everything we buy is wrapped in cellophane and our landfills are full of it. A variety of alternatives to plastic can be made from hemp.

In 1941, Henry Ford held a media event where he swung an axe at a prototype car body made of hemp and other plant material to prove its strength. The technology was never put into mass production, cars continued to be made of steel, and plastics made from petrochemicals became the norm.

Fortunately, the number of available products made from hemp plastics is on the increase as awareness of the importance of developing sustainable alternatives grows.

Building Materials
Hemp-based materials can replace wood and other materials used to build homes and other structures including foundations, walls, shingles, paneling, pipes, and paint.

The modern hemp building materials Hempcrete and Isochanvre are lightweight, waterproof, fireproof, self-insulating, and resistant to pests.

And last but not least, cannabinoids from the hemp plant have amazing and potentially limitless potential as it relates to human health and wellness.  Cannabinoids — the active chemicals in medical marijuana — are similar to chemicals the body makes that are involved in appetite, memory, movement, and pain. Research suggests cannabinoids:

– Reduce anxiety
– Reduce inflammation and relieve pain
– Control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
– Kill cancer cells and slow tumor growth
– Relax tight muscles in people with multiple sclerosis
– Stimulate appetite and improve weight gain in people with cancer and AIDS

Yes, one plant can do all of these things.  Thus, it is beyond reproach to suggest that, industrial hemp focused, the plant-based economy is worthy of our attention and effort. 

And Yarumal is the perfect location to develop this notion. Yarumal is a municipality in the Antioquia Department of Colombia, north of Medellin. The principal industries are lumber and building materials, dairy, and clothing manufacturing. There are also areas where traditionally illicit crops are grown. Any of these facts would make Yarumal an ideal site for a pilot program for the introduction of hemp. Combined, they make Yarumal ideal.

What is also both tragic and extraordinary about Yarumal is that its population suffers from the highest incidence of Alzheimer’s in the entire world. Ten percent of its 50,000 inhabitants suffer – or will suffer – from the disease. Researchers have identified a genetic mutation brought over from Spain during the Conquest, 500 plus years ago, that causes a carrier to develop early-onset Alzheimers.

Clinical trials by several large pharmaceutical companies have failed to produce results. Now, the local governments, the University of Antioquia, and HLG Global together with some of its clients are organizing an observational study in the introduction of hemp into the diets of those families affected by Alzheimer’s. Many studies have shown that cannabinoids and omega acids from the flowers and seeds of the plant help ameliorate the effects of Alzheimer’s.

At the same time, the team will analyze punctual opportunities to introduce hemp into the economy by way of projects in the building materials, dairy, and clothing sectors. In his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez wrote of a town, Macondo, that became lost in forgetfulness. We dare to hope that hemp might provide a way back. And a way forward.