How Industrial Hemp Could Fast-track Kenya’s Big 4 Agenda

Right from Food Security, Manufacturing, Affordable Housing, to Affordable Healthcare, Industrial Hemp is a viable catalyst that could propel the Government’s Agenda Four pillars of development to the highest pinnacle of success.

This is according to Ms. Alexis Hubbard, who posits that the numerous industrial benefits of hemp could be a key contributor to the country’s development. Ms. Hubbard was speaking during a webinar organized by the University’s Directorate of Research and Innovation, Thursday May 13, 2021. She serves as a co-founder and Global Marketing Director of Savor the World.

“Legalization of commercial use of hemp in Kenya would present a great opportunity for reduction of poverty levels through creation of jobs, and production of food. Jobs generated from hemp industry range from growers, harvesters, retailers, marketers. In addition, the use of clean biofuel- hemp ethanol, will propel the manufacturing sector towards achieving affordable and clean energy, ” she argues.

She further reasons that industrial hemp would contribute to sustainable affordable housing through the use of hemp construction materials such as hempcrete. Hempcrete is a strong, durable and fireproof building material used for structural construction, insulation and finishes. Compared to concrete, hempcrete is  considered lighter, an excellent insulator, highly mold resistant, not-toxic and good for the environment.

Running under the topic; “Research, Entrepreneurial, and Industrial Opportunities for Hemp”, the interactive webinar entailed presentations and discussions by researchers, entrepreneurs, and experts from the medical field on what a future with legalized framework for hemp use would look like in the country and region as a whole.

“First of all, it is very crucial to make the distinction between hemp and marijuana. The two are not the same. Hemp looks similar, but it is not marijuana. It is not psychoactive, and is less than 0.3% THC. THC in full is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, which causes users to feel high,” explained Alexis.

Hemp, she further enunciates, is a viable crop that can produce and trade like cotton, soy and tobacco. It is one of the strongest and most durable textiles of all natural textile fibers. Matter of fact, history records that one of Henry Ford’s first cars ran entirely on Hemp ethanol. The body was also constructed from Hemp plastic, which was ten times stronger than steel. Yes, you read that right.

However due to the disruptive nature of that innovation, and the competitive threat it posed to powerful industries at the time, it was outlawed in the States in 1937. It was until 2018 that the US government removed hemp from the controlled substances list.

Hemp, or cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC, can also be grown to create other kinds of products, including paper, clothing, textiles, animal feed, plastic, and hemp ethanol (biofuel). Food products can also be derived from hemp, including hemp seed, hemp milk, hemp protein powder, or hemp oil. Since hemp grows and matures faster than trees and other crops, its proponents have argued for its sustainability and environmental safety in making products like paper and textiles.

Dr. John Kinyuru, the Director Research posits that there is sufficient scientific data that indicates that the small, brown hemp seeds are rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fatty acids, including omega-3s and omega-6s. They have antioxidant effects and may reduce symptoms of numerous ailments, improving the health of the heart, skin, and joints.

Although the medical community has not been unanimous in the findings, Cannabidiol (CBD) which is derived from the hemp plant, has been touted as a possible remedy to neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, childhood seizure disorders, among others. Its anti-inflammatory properties may also help manage the symptoms of chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease.

Dr. Fabio Icon, a medical doctor and researcher based in the United states, who also addressed the webinar, postulates that hemp products have shown promising effects in children with autism, in alleviating pain, stress, aid in stress, seizures, sleep disorders, cerebral palsy, and has shown promising effects in individuals with fibromyalgia.

According to Dr. Kabare Karanja, a lecturer at the School of Business, it is now incumbent upon universities such as JKUAT to take the lead and initiate further research into hemp and its exploitation, in order to help guide its legal framework and mainstreaming in the country.
“This is the moment to try the unbeaten paths. This is the moment to pick up the opportunities that hemp farming can provide not just to the country, but the East African region as a whole.” His sentiments were echoed by Dr. Allan Mugambi, a lecturer at the College of Human Resource Development (COHRED).

“What we’re doing, and what we must do going forward is to look at this from a research and entrepreneurial perspective. One of our core mandates as a University is to carry out research that can enable the country and world at large make informed decisions,” said Dr. Mugambi.

Currently, Kenya has no legal framework for the industrial production and processing of hemp plant. This is not the case in the neighboring Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda, who have already gone a notch high and put in place such a framework. In a poll conducted at the end of the webinar, 97% of the more than 400 participants were unanimous in their belief that it’s a high time Kenya legalized industrial hemp. This, they believe, will enable Kenya to soar to its highest development potential.

In his concluding remarks, Dr. Kinyuru emphasized that decisions should be made based on concrete information and data.
“Scientific evidence, and particularly local data is key and very instrumental in informing both national and regional standards when it comes to the exploitation of industrial hemp. That is why we are beginning this conversation here, in a Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship University,” he opined.

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