Tony Budden [12 MAY 2011 | Carbon Sequestration | 7:10 ] About 15 years ago, I got some cannabis from a friend of mine. It blew my mind. It changed my life forever, and I think it’s an idea worth sharing. So I’ve actually brought some here to share with you today.

First of all, are there any police in the audience?

I know you have to identify yourselves.

Okay, we’re safe. Here we go.

This is cannabis canvas. If you think those words sound the same, it’s because they are. The word canvas comes directly from the word cannabis: all canvas used to be made out of hemp. Our Afrikaans word for shirt: hemp. The Dutch used to wear hemp.

It’s got a long history, it goes right back to about 8,000 B.C. That’s 10,000 years. It’s only been banned for the last 100 years, so that’s less than 1% of our known use of this plant. 15 years ago, being entrepreneurial students, we felt how tough and strong it was and we started making bags out of it.

We started a company called Hemporium, and back then it was the “wear what you smoke” market.

There was no natural and organic market; the only people who had a positive viewpoint towards this plant were the stoners. Luckily, we live in a country where that is a fairly big market. As we grew to know the plant more though, we found out that the smoking side is actually, if anything, a drawback to what the plant can offer because it stops people from seeing the other estimated 25,000 end uses for the plants.

We learned about hemp as a fuel, hemp as bioplastics, medicine obviously, paper, textiles, even livestock bedding and food for humans. So, this was quite interesting, like way bigger than we thought. We started growing that market, and then luckily, at the right time, we also learned what was happening overseas. All these products are coming out of countries that have recognized the mistake made in the early 1900s when hemp was associated with its notorious cousin marijuana.

That should never have happened: they are different plants.

They are all cannabis, but you cannot get high from hemp and you cannot get good fibre from marijuana. Hemp is not psychoactive. The varieties you grow do not make you high. They’re grown for fibre, they look different in the field. It’s a four-metre high, thin plant, compared to a shorter, bushy plant for marijuana.

We learned that Australia, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, they’re all growing hemp now. They’re making products like – The top left there is a door panel made for Mercedes-Benz using fibre grass instead of fibreglass. Protein-rich pastas. And there’s animal bedding, there’s omega fatty acid rich oils, all your omega three, six and nine coming from hemp instead of coming from the sea, from fish.

Obviously cosmetics, and then the latest is the building industry.

Pretty soon, we had our own shops, we had a full range of clothing, body-care products, accessories, and we were really using the clothing to spread a message, because there’s no faster way to change someone’s mindset towards this plant than touching and feeling. The minute you can see that it’s got value, it changes that paradigm: hemp is a drug, cannabis a drug, no other use for it, it’s the devil’s weed.

The minute you can touch and feel it, you can actually change that perception.

Why we did it. This is our aim.

I want to be that man, I want to be standing in that hemp field.

This is in England, by the way, with their crappy climate on mud island. Imagine what hemp would do here in South Africa.

We have been doing trials here since 1998, so 13 years. It grows up to three to four metres in four months. That is an incredible rate of growth, it’s one of the most efficient uses of sunlight, a photosynthesis rate faster than any other plant. It provides way more fibre per hectare than cotton.

If we had a need for fibre, the whole picture is our need for fibre: that’s how much land we’d need for cotton; that’s how much land we’d need for hemp. It makes 250% more fibre compared to cotton, so, basically, we would be able to free up all the rest of the land for food. Instead of getting our oils from the sea, from fish, omega fatty acids can come from hemp seed. Instead of cutting down forests for paper, we can grow hemp.

On the bottom right there, that’s a trial crop in Stellenbosch. As you can see, the birds love it … they know. We were not happy with the rate of change here. Fibre: we’ve got cotton in this country, we’ve got sisal, we’ve got flax, it wasn’t really picking up. We saw what happened when we went into meetings with the government and we pulled out this, a hemp brick. We showed them this, hemp chipboard, tree-free chipboard.

Next, hemp insulation. Who’s not touched that horrible fibreglass stuff that’s all around you at the moment in your house? You never get it out of your skin, it takes a lot of energy to make. This will go back to being plant food, it’s warm, it’s a hollow fibre, it has very good insulation properties for your house.

This is the Hemp House in Noordhoek.

We decided to walk our talk a little bit more, and take it to the next level, starting insulation, chipboard, hempstalk.

That’s a hempcrete wall over there, using lime as a binder.

There’s a lot of lime in this country, 50% of that wall was grown in three to four months.

There is no other resource can do that for us. You can’t wait twenty years for trees to grow. We can’t carry on extractive mining of clay and cement: you’re taking things out of the planet; this is about renewable resources. We did it also in a modular way, a much better way of building in South Africa because it can happen so fast and all your quality control goes on in the factory.

It can be taken to site really quickly, and this was put up in two-and-a-half weeks.

That’s inside, obviously doing the hempcrete walls, and slowly making it into a home. That is where it is at the moment. We have hemp carpets in there, hemp curtains, the hemp lampshades are going in, the hemp bedspreads in, and I had my hempseed nut smoothie this morning. Here we are showing hemp in its green glory, trying to get us into a renewable way of building instead of an extractive way of building.

The media is loving it, they are supporting us, so we are hoping this message is going to really go forward. And that’s us opening the gates to the hemp field

The Hemp Countdown
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