Hemp fabric boasts some incredible properties: It’s stronger and more durable than cotton, takes half as much water and land to grow, is 98% UV resistant, repels bacteria and dust, and looks like linen (but wrinkles less).
India is the world’s second largest exporter of cotton, but there are some big challenges: Modern conventional cotton cultivation relies on pesticides and herbicides which are improperly, excessively, and dangerously applied in underdeveloped countries, and might have contributed to the worldwide decline of insect populations. And then there is the suicide epidemic among poor cotton farmers. One study shows that small-scale cotton farmers who try to rain-feed their genetically modified cotton are more likely to be sucked into a cycle of debt and commit suicide.
For these and other reasons, social entrepreneurs are watching closely the emergence of another crop, industrial hemp. (Industrial hemp is low-THC cannabis sativa, as opposed to cannabis indica, for smoking).
Hemp has an astounding array of uses: clothing, paper, particleboard, molded plastics (you can find it in Mercedes and BMW cars), and even food (pick up a carton of protein and omega-rich hemp milk in Whole Foods). It’s stronger and more durable than cotton, and needs half as much water and land to grow. It only takes 90 days to mature for harvest – as opposed to nine months for cotton – so farmers can grow it twice a year and reduce the financial risk of crop failure. And it’s called a “sister plant,” growing so densely that it crowds out weeds without the help of herbicides.