K-P looking to enter growing global hemp market

Govt conducting a survey with University of Peshawar to explore benefits associated with plant

Aihtesham Khan November 04, 2021
Leaves of a Carmagnola hemp strain plant are silhouetted as the sun sets at a medical cannabis plantation in Trikala, Greece, August 29, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS


Cannabis cultivation’s bad reputation has seen a turnaround in its fortunes with an increasing amount of research highlighting the medical and monetary benefits it has to offer.

The crop which is ready in three months, is cultivated on nearly 250,000 acres of land in neighboring China as per estimates. Now, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) hopes to follow in the footsteps of our neighbor and take advantage of the crop’s growing market after the provincial government gave formal approval for the cultivation of cannabis.

The cannabis plant contains a compound known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and if its concentration in the plant is up to 0.3% it is known as hemp and is used industrially. If the amount of THC exceeds 0.3%, it is classified as a drug. The provincial government hopes to exploit the industrial uses of hemp.

However, before the crop can actually be sown, the government has started conducting a six-month survey in collaboration with the University of Peshawar to explore the benefits associated with the plant. The survey which will cost roughly 15 million rupees will focus on three districts which have the potential to cultivate the crop - Khyber, Kurram, and Orakzai. Apart from that, a team of 10 professors will evaluate how much area could the crop cover, what kind of production can be expected, and whether factories can be set up nearby to process it.

Read Cannabis cultivation policy to be launched by Dec

Dr Fazal Nasir, a professor in the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Peshawar, who prepared the preliminary report of the ongoing survey, informed The Express Tribune that hemp could be grown on an area of 116 square kilometers in Orakzai and 106 square kilometers in Khyber district. “An acre of land produces about 20 kilograms of cannabis, which costs about Rs200,000 and if factories are set up for the crop, an acre of land can generate an income of Rs 1.5 to 2 million,” he said.

The initial report, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, states that if the government allows the cultivation of cannabis, it will not only create opportunities for the people in these districts, but also earn foreign exchange through exports.

Nasir informed that the survey will be completed by the end of November this year and it will include a business plan which highlights how much of the crop can be used medicinally and how much can be exported to foreign countries.

However, the cultivation of the crop is not completely alien to K-P. A senior police official, talking to The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity, informed that large-scale cannabis production in Khyber District had been going on for a long time. “Now efforts are being made to lure people to other jobs instead of illegal farming. If this survey report helps in creating a good mega plan, it will reduce unemployment as well as crime in the tribal districts,” he told The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2021.


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