Image by Theo Wright via FlickrBy Adrian Desbarats
There was a time in history when just about everyone on just about every continent used hemp to produce something, be it ropes, sails, paper, jewellery, bags, hemp clothing, etc. For example, until 1883 approximately 70 - 90% of all paper in the world was made using hemp fibre to produce books, Bibles, newspapers, maps, paper money, etc. Until 1937 from 70 - 90% off all rope, twin and cordage was produced using hemp.
During World War II, the United States relied heavily on hemp as the main fibre in the production of uniforms, canvas and rope. Much of the fibre used by the American military was grown in Kentucky and the Midwest. The fibre was so important to the American military engine that during World War II, the US produced a short film called "Hemp for Victory" which promoted the fibre as an important crop to assist in winning the war.
So, how did hemp fibre production decline so precipitously from these glory days?
This decline is especially difficult to understand given the many benefits of hemp:
Hardy plant: Cannabis sativa L, the plant used to produce hemp is very durable allowing it to be grown in a variety of latitudes, weather and soil types.
High Yield: Cannabis sativa L, produces a far superior fibre yield versus other options. For example, one acre of hemp can produce the same amount of useable fibre versus 4 acres of trees or two acres of cotton.
Durable Fibre: Individual Cannabis fibres are up to 15ft long giving them a very high tensile strength as compared to other natural fibres. For example, hemp paper lasts longer than wood pulp. Because Cannabis requires less chemical inputs in the pulping process, hemp paper is acid-free, and chlorine free. Hemp paper can be recycled 7 times, wood pulp only 4 times. Hemp is more water absorbent and, has three times the tensile strength of cotton, making it a far more durable fibre for textile production. Cannabis fibre is also anti-microbial, highly rot and mildew resistant and offers a high UV resistance.
More Eco Friendly: Hemp cultivation requires very little if any pesticide application, irrigation or fertilizer supplementation. Compare this to conventional cotton which accounts for approximately 24% of world insecticide demand and 11% of world pesticide demand, yet uses only 2.4% of arable land. Cotton also consumes a large amount of water, requiring approximately 10,000 - 17,000 L per Kg of cotton lint produced.
Yet despite all these incredible benefits of hemp the decline in production since 1966 has been dramatic.
In part II of this series you will get our view of why this decline took place as well as a hopeful glimpse at the possible resurgence of this highly beneficial and eco friendly fabric.
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