If you ever visit Nepal, you might be surprised by the number of retail stores that sell hemp-based products. Hemp-based oils, shampoos, clothes, bags, hats, food, and skin care products — it’s amazing just how many of these products you can find across the streets of Nepal.
But for the Nepali natives, this is nothing out of the ordinary.
The hemp plant is native to Nepal — a country blessed with extremely favorable climatic conditions and fertile land. With wild hemp growing naturally in abundance, it only makes sense that Nepal cashes in on the growing popularity of hemp.
But Nepal specialized in hemp textiles, medicine, and food centuries before the recent global comeback of the plant. Unfortunately, things haven’t been nearly as favorable for Nepal’s hemp industry as they should have been.
The History of Hemp In Nepal
Countless medicinal and herbal plants have been a landrace to Nepal for thousands of years, including the ever-controversial cannabis plant.
The local term for cannabis plants and all its extracts is ganja. The ganja plant is native to Nepal and grows naturally in abundance across several districts of Western Nepal. Indeed, Nepal’s mild climate, high elevation, and diverse ecology are ideal for cannabis cultivation.
For centuries, locals cultivated and used these plants for medicinal, religious, and recreational purposes. Ganja facilitates the ancient medicinal practices of Ayurvedic healing, whereas the consumption of bhang (a psychoactive cannabis drink) is an essential part of the Maha Shivratri festival honoring the Hindu God Shiva.
Moreover, villagers resorted to locally-extracted and processed hemp fibers to produce mats, bags, ropes, fishing nets, carry straps, clothes, and so much more. The wide availability of hemp plants emancipated villagers who mastered the art of hemp textiles, thereby becoming self-reliant.
Not only that, but the profusion of cannabis cast a spotlight on Nepal, and it was a gateway destination for many Westerners seeking top-quality hashish. As tourism flourished, everyone — from the Nepali government to the local businessman — benefitted from the cultivation, production, and sale of cannabis and hemp.
Indeed, the cultivation and trading of cannabis and all its by-products (including textile and food) in Nepal was a lucrative source of income for centuries. But everything changed with the turn of the 20th century.
The Legal Status of Industrial Hemp In Nepal
The early 20th century saw global objections to cannabis cultivation, with many countries prohibiting the cultivation and production of the plant.
The government of Nepal also followed suit, mainly out of pressure. By 1973, the cultivation of hemp was highly regulated under the Narcotics Drug Control Act. The aim here was to address the rampant drug use in Nepal in the mid-to-late 20th century.
Unfortunately, cannabis’s close cousin, hemp, was also caught in the crosshairs as lawmakers failed to recognize that hemp is completely non-psychoactive.
As a result, many locals suffered greatly from this US-induced ban on cannabis. Nepal’s illegalization of hemp sent farmers into poverty who lost the economic benefits of Nepal’s cash crop.
Today, artisans maintain that their hemp-based businesses aren’t illegal, and rightfully so.
The Narcotics Drug Control Act does allow for the industrial use of hemp, but under strict and often confusing guidelines.
By and large, the illegalization of cannabis, in general, has impeded the growth of what would have otherwise been a flourishing industry in Nepal.
Prem Dahal, a pioneer of hemp trade in Nepal, observes that “if hemp was fully legal, and allowed to be grown on an industrial scale, it would be as valuable as gold.” Instead of improving the local hemp industry, the government forced artisans to import hemp fibers and other raw materials, despite sitting on a goldmine.
But all is not lost.
The Recovery of Nepal’s Hemp Industry
The past few years have seen a global resurgence of cannabis, as many countries are now starting to ease up on strict bans. Nepali lawmakers are stressing the potential economic boost that could result from the legalization of cannabis.
At the same time, people have quickly started to recognize the many uses and benefits of cannabis, including hemp textiles, food products, and medicine.
Consequently, Nepali artisans are finally receiving the appreciation they deserve for their craft. Specifically, local craftsmen are better able to acquire outlets to promote their products. Brands such as Hemp and Hope, Bhangra, and Hempalya facilitate local artisans by extending their products to the western market.
Granted, there is still a widespread misconception surrounding hemp, vis-a-vis its relation to cannabis. Additionally, Nepal has yet to alleviate its nationwide regulations on hemp. But the market reception to hemp products has generally been favorable.
The Benefits of Improving Nepal’s Hemp Industry
All in all, the forecast for Nepal’s hemp industry is hopeful — despite initial setbacks. The benefits of legalizing industrial hemp are far-reaching:
- Locals can reclaim their source of income through hemp, leading to a rise in GDP.
- Nepal can stop importing allopathic drugs
- Employment opportunities could increase, much like they have in the US after the legalization of cannabis in many states.
- Trade deficits can improve as both cannabis and hemp textiles of Nepali origin are highly popular across many countries.
- The modernization of pre-existing manual processes of hemp cultivation and production will ease the burden of local artisans.
- Crime rates will decrease significantly.
The Economic Value of Hemp In Nepal
Hemp products offer a lot of value to the economy of Nepal.
In 2019, Nepal exported $46,900 in hemp fibers, making it the 31st-largest exporter of hemp fibers in the world. The fastest-growing export markets for Nepal’s hemp products were the United States, United Kingdom, and France. Other main destinations for Nepal’s hemp products include the Netherlands and Switzerland as well.
Now, with the resurgence of cannabis and the increasing popularity of hemp products, these figures are going to increase exponentially.
Hemp is one of the most promising yet equally underappreciated cash crops of Nepal.
Before the illegalization of hemp across the globe, people in Nepal were living in prosperity. They were benefiting off of one of the country’s most abundant and profitable natural resources.
Luckily, things are looking up once again as restrictions on cannabis and hemp cultivation are easing up globally. If Nepal were to follow suit, its hemp industry could carry it towards economic success.