Commodities at a glance: Special issue on industrial hemp

This report discusses the general uses of industrial hemp, and how they are reflected in international production and trade statistics. Based on current practical experiences and empirical expertise, it also defines the steps that could be taken by developing countries where climate and agronomic characteristics are favourable for its cultivation in order to exploit its economic and social potential.

Industrial hemp does not have intoxicating properties. Nonetheless, it remains a controversial plant, as it is still often mistakenly associated with use as an intoxicant. A negative connotation still prevails despite a history, over several millennia, of its industrial and medicinal applications. Such a connotation is due in part to confusion about the botanical characteristics and chemotype of the plant.

The C. sativa L plant is a versatile, multipurpose crop. Given that its roots, flowers and fruits, stems and leaves have various medical, industrial and nutritional uses, their exploitation could generate significant agricultural benefits.

A so-called whole-plant approach based on the exploitation of all parts of the plant should be at the core of any sectoral development strategy. This approach could facilitate the creation of production chains that are able to contribute to growth in rural areas, in manufacturing and in the food processing industry.

However, to fully exploit the potential of industrial hemp, countries would need to take specific actions. For instance, a clarification of the legal status of hemp as distinct from intoxicant cannabis substances could be the first step taken by governments.

A precise understanding of production constraints imposed by regulatory frameworks in destination markets would also be necessary to identify market potential. Regional cooperation to facilitate the establishment of production chains may also be a strategy for developing countries to consider.

This report is organized as follows:

  • Chapter 2 presents the definitions and taxonomy related to the Cannabis L. genus, followed by a description of its botanical properties and ecological characteristics. Current uses are then reviewed, and the chapter concludes with an assessment of international treaties that regulate industrial hemp production.
  • Chapter 3 discusses the industrial hemp sector value chain. It first describes production options and constraints faced by major growers. It then looks at potential challenges and opportunities for processors. Finally, the chapter considers how consumers’ preferences, and their evolution, may affect market trends.
  • Chapter 4 first presents some facts and figures about hemp production, followed by information relating to international trade in hemp products. The last section discusses tariffs and NTMs relating to hemp trade.
  • Chapter 5 discusses prices of industrial hemp products, based on trade unit values and prices that are published by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and various other sources.
  • Chapter 6 highlights policy issues for consideration by governments for promoting the development of industrial hemp.
29 Nov 2022