Hemp Italy: the revival of an historic crop
Hemp from Italy may not be the first thing that crosses your mind when you think of hemp, but the history of hemp cultivation in this country goes back a long way. In the 16th century, Italian hemp was considered the best in the world, and in the early 1900’s, Italy was second only to Russia in its hemp production. More than 100,000 hectares of agricultural land were used to grow hemp.
There was a gradual decline in hemp production after 1914, culminating in an economic crisis in the late 50’s and early 60’s when hemp, a crop that had largely been taken for granted, became a less profitable proposition, forcing farmers to turn to other crops in order to survive.
Cheap synthetics replace hemp
Part of the problem behind the hemp Italy crisis was the fact that it was a labour intensive crop. Machinery needed to process the fibres had as yet not been invented, and with synthetics gaining ground, the necessary impetus to develop and implement mechanised hemp processing simply wasn’t there.
During the 60’s a trend towards urbanisation emptied the countryside of the necessary labourers, who left the countryside in the hope of better paid work in cities. With this migration, the knowledge behind hemp production was all but lost.
Despite subsequent efforts to design suitable machinery to reduce the labour needed in hemp production, hemp in Italy never regained its position of prominence in agriculture, and even the knowledge of how it should be grown became a distant memory.
The 90’s brings renewed interest in hemp from Italy but regulations suffocate revival
In the 90’s eco-friendly movements promoted the cultivation of hemp, and its cultivation was re-started on a small scale only to meet with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These were predominantly associated with anti-drug laws, with EC regulations demanding a maximum of 0.2% THC down from the 0.3% previously accepted.
Since the ‘drug’ varieties usually have at least 10% THC and often more, this new regulation seemed unnecessary, and it served to deter farmers from rekindling hemp as an important crop. In Hungary, the situation was even worse, with all its varieties exceeding the new “legal limit”. But hemp Italy was not much better off. An EC list of accepted varieties listed only three Italian variants, and none of these was available any longer.
Today, hemp is clawing its way back onto the international stage
Italian farmers are increasingly turning to hemp production today, and they are supplying the first hemp seeds to US farmers legally allowed to return to hemp cultivation after decades of prohibition. In addition, the current global focus on sustainability points towards the many benefits and uses of hemp as a renewable fuel, dietary staple, fibre crop, source of bioplastic, carbon fixer, building material and medicine. In this movement, hemp from Italy will be leading the way.