How hemp could save Afghanistan and the world

With the world facing unavoidable shortages of water, oil and other natural resources, hemp can save us from widespread poverty, famine and death. Hemp industries proponent Marc Deeley explains how a project he is involved with ? Spirit Aid ? might tip the scales in favour of humankind.
In a blasted, bombed-out Afghani countryside, surrounded by desert wastes, Deeley proposes hemp as an answer to a people’s woes. Since the 90’s, hemp enthusiasts have touted the plant as a source of cheap and easy-to-grow fiber, fuel and environmental regeneration, but few have taken the next step and actually tried to make it work. Deeley and his partner, Paul Wylie, are at the forefront of that modest group that hopes to make theory into practice.

Paul Wylie has faced investigation, imprisonment and death during the course of his efforts to implement a Nicaraguan Hemp Project. Despite the approval of the Nicaraguan government, US Drug Enforcement Agents infiltrated the Nicaraguan hemp project, claimed the company was growing recreational cannabis, burned the field to the ground and threw Wylie in perhaps the worst prison in Central America.

Many thought the project was over. Instead, Deeley and Wylie took it to the next level, proposing an even more ambitious business adventure in Nicaragua as settlement to an ongoing lawsuit over the loss of their business. Then they initiated a radical new proposal for Afghanistan.

Cannabis Culture interviewed Deeley about this project and why it is so important to the future of human life on earth.

CC: Why are looming oil shortages important to your project?

MD: If we use up all the world’s oil reserves, there is no going back ? climate change will be absolutely irreversible, creating perhaps more refugees than every war in history combined. The whole thing must be tackled as a single issue. The ‘war on drugs’ has been used to destroy the hemp industry and create a drug problem where none previously existed. [It] must end; the hemp industry must be allowed to flourish under the international law that was designed to protect it.

CC: How imminent is environmental collapse, particularly in Afghanistan?

MD: Two decades of conflict, combined with illegal logging means total collapse could occur within 5-10 years. Lawlessness, war and illegal logging have removed the forest at an alarming rate. The statistics are incredible. By definition, no forest is detectable by satellite equipment as average tree density is below 40 trees per hectare. Furthermore, prolonged conflict has meant that there haven’t been any developments in the fuel industry. For the past 30 years people have become increasingly reliant on trees for heating and cooking fuel. The forests also used to provide people with an income; most of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange earnings came from forest products, such as fruit and nuts. During the last 30 years these resources have been destroyed, thereby reducing economic sustainability while making people more dependent on opium poppy as a cash crop.

CC: How can hemp help the logging problem?

MD: People could compact the hemp into briquettes and burn it. It would save what’s left of Afghanistan’s forest and allow people to engage in meaningful tree planting projects to rebuild their country. Hemp can be used to prepare the land for tree planting projects.

CC: Can you speak to the failed promise of scientific progress? Why are we in the mess we are in when there are excellent technologies like hemp that can save the entire planet from environmental collapse?

MD: There’s a very long history to that. But in more recent time we can look at the decision to commit ourselves to fossil fuel addiction and the destruction of our forests. That decision was made in 1920’s America by a handful of industrial interests and corrupt politicians. It would be very nice to imagine a world that hadn’t gone down that route. If – as Henry Ford had argued – we had gone a route of using carbohydrates from plants instead of hydrocarbons from oil, we might not now be looking at irreversible climate change as a future reality.

CC: You are referring to long-established technology that makes a burnable oil fuel from plant material. How could this product change world economies?

MD: Well, if it can compete with oil and timber, you are taking two of the world’s largest and most damaging industries and substituting them with sustainable industry, which has the potential to redistribute wealth. This system would emphasize agricultural and economic systems of bioregional development, local production and markets.

CC: Could you explain why hemp is well suited to reclaiming desertified land?

MD: It is not just a case of hemp to reclaim desertified land; it is a method for preventing land from becoming desertified in the first place. Once the trees have been removed, it’s hard to reclaim. You might be able to catch areas before it becomes desert.

CC: How can hemp help such problems as chemically toxified and low-yield radiation bomb toxified soil?

MD: It’s possible. Everything suggests that hemp removes heavy metal contamination from the soil, not least the work ongoing at Chernobyl. There is no reason why this could not be a part of our research. That’s long term. Right now we are looking at the immediate concerns of people in Afghanistan: the need for people to feed themselves, and the need for cooking and heating fuel. Children die of malnutrition everyday in Afghanistan ? hemp has the ability to address these problems immediately.

CC: How will growing hemp reduce poppy cultivation?

MD: The people of Afghanistan are desperately poor. And on top of this, they are having to cope with a severely degraded resource base, that can no longer sustain their food, fuel and fiber needs. Growing opium poppy provides the cash to buy in goods and services, but ? and this is the crucial point ? hemp can help provide these goods and services directly, through its immediate use-value and utility as a nutritious source of food protein, a renewable fuel and building material. At the same time, the introduction of hemp will help to address the plethora of related environmental problems. Through systems of co-operative local processing I am convinced that hemp production would out-compete the farm-gate price paid to farmers for their raw opium gum; thus reducing the flood of cheap heroin to the inner cities and ghettos of the West ? while rebuilding independent development in Afghanistan.

CC: How much success have you had with this project over the last year?

MD: To be perfectly honest – none. I believe that there is no real political will to replace opium in Afghanistan. Drugs are big business and the turnover from a captive , or addicted, market is staggering. Afghan opium results in as much as 2-300 billion US dollars in global circulation ? that is a lot of money. The people profiting from this industry include the pharmaceutical giants manufacturing opium or heroin “substitutes”, our increasingly privatized prison operators, and arms dealers. Unfortunately, the type of corporate democracy we live in puts profit ahead of people, and the environment. In private, I have had a positive response from every aid agency and politician I have spoken to, yet there has been no tangible support. I am beginning to think that even the aid agencies that claim to be “anti-drugs” have an interest in their own preservation. If there was no heroin on our streets, there would be no need for their services.

CC: Is there any hope for hemp to reach its true potential?

MD: I am convinced that truth, common sense and justice will prevail ? especially on the hemp issue.

The Wylie/Hemp-Agro case in Nicaragua will hopefully force the US government to change its internationally illegal policy on hemp, which continues to hold back and prevent a viable global hemp industry. I also have faith in the resourcefulness and common sense of the Afghan people to safeguard their country and prevent it from descending into Colombia-style “drug war” destruction.

Hemp for fuel controversy

Using hemp to make burnable fuel products has stirred controversy and misunderstanding even among hemp industry supporters. In the early 90’s, enthusiastic hempsters promoted that one day hemp might solve the world’s gasoline crisis. Their dreams were soon deflated.

The problem isn’t whether it can be done: using existing technologies parts of the hemp plant can be converted to burnable oil or to ethanol. Cars driven only on hemp fuels have already toured the continent, proving conclusively that it can be done.

The problem is the perception that it is uneconomical. Other plants are known to produce more oil and general biomass for less money using traditional farming techniques. For example, hemp proponents have pointed out that corn produces more oil. And according to UK Minister of Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy Larry Whitty, both Coppice and Miscanthus produce more biomass.

However, Larry Whitty has admitted that hemp’s potential may be greater than is currently thought.

“It is possible that a dual variety, grown for seed and biomass, may yet change the economics of [hemp for fuel],” he wrote in a July, 2004 letter to a constituent, likely referring to the high-seed producing Finola variety.

Whitty’s letter only scrapes the surface of a much deeper issue, however. Should any cannabis field be planted for more than one use, the biomass that is left over suddenly becomes affordable, even relatively cost-free. Should we plant a field of recreational pot, for example, the sales of that product alone would more than pay for the growing of the crop and the left-over biomass would be a bonus.

Yet, even in countries where industrial hemp has been legalized, burdensome regulations surrounding hemp farming reflect our rulers’ fears that someone might try to slip some high-grade recreational cannabis into the hemp patch. Prohibition has created an unfair economic climate for growing hemp. Unfortunately, negative stigmas around recreational cannabis were sometimes reinforced by certain activists eager to prove that industrial hemp was different than its supposedly “more sinister” cousin.

Using industrial hemp to solve environmental problems can also make the resulting biomass more affordable for fuel. Marc Deeley, for example, proposes using hemp to prevent desertification and seeds for food. According to Deeley’s plan, the harvested plant could be made into burnable bricks to fuel stoves and heat homes, preventing further deforestation.

With the western world facing the likelihood of environmental collapse, hopefully more of us will recognize that by fully using the hemp plant’s multiple products we might save the world from a future without hope.