Andreas Späth

Hemp is not dagga!

2014-03-17 11:46

Andreas Wilson-Späth

One of my personal favourites at the upcoming Cape Town Eco Film Festival is a movie called Bringing It Home. It tells the story of hemp, an amazing, but much maligned and therefore underutilised agricultural crop.

But isn’t hemp the same thing as marijuana? Nope! While dagga and industrial hemp both belong to the cannabis family, the later only contains 0.3% to 1.5% THC or tetrahydrocannabinoids, the psychoactive component in marijuana, which itself contains 5% to 10% or more THC.

Simply put, you can’t get high by smoking industrial hemp.

Hemp has a long, albeit somewhat interrupted, history. It was one of the most productive and useful crops grown by the first European colonists in North America for example. In fact, the US constitution was written on paper made out of hemp.

In the early 20th century, however, hemp was seen as a major competitor by other powerful US industries, including big tobacco and timber companies. The crop was vilified, lumped together with marijuana and effectively destroyed as a viable agricultural product by heavy punitive taxation.

Today, industrial hemp is making a massive comeback and is being cultivated in more than 30 countries, including France, Australia, the UK, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.

Bringing It Home tells the story behind this resurgence and highlights some of the many uses of hemp, which can be made into textiles, car parts, bio plastics and more. Hemp seeds are exceptionally rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, while the wood-like core of the plant (known as hemp “hurds” or “shiv”) can be turned into non-toxic insulation material, particle board and hemcrete, a carbon-negative alternative to concrete.

The screening at the festival will be followed by an informal Q&A session with Tony Budden, a South African hemp expert and co-owner of Hemporium, who appears in the film.

Moving on to herbs of a different kind, Op Theefontein, a delightful Afrikaans film with English subtitles, features the unlikely relationship between a Great Karoo hunter and herbalist and a well-known Afrikaans singer and actress.

It took many years for Oom Johannes Willemse, already in his nineties, and Antoinette Pienaar to find each other. Now he’s passing on his knowledge of the medicinal power of indigenous plants to her, and together the quirky couple is educating scores of curious South Africans on the beneficial properties of these plants.

Op Theefontein is a quintessentially South African tale full of gentle philosophical insights. Hermien de Vos, one of the film’s directors will join us for a conversation after the screening.

For those of you who still don’t quite trust the scientists who are telling us that global warming is real, serious and mostly caused by human activities, I recommend Thin Ice, a fantastic film that brings you face to face with some of the climate researchers that are piecing together the evidence from the Antarctic to the arctic and everywhere in between.

Filmmaker and geologist Simon Lamb visits them at work and takes us through all of the arguments about climate change one step at a time.

While we’re on global warming, have you ever wondered if the massively profitable carbon offsetting projects which many companies in industrial countries are initiating in the developed world are actually working? Are they reducing carbon emissions and making a difference to climate change? Are they benefiting the communities in which they are being established?

Watch the eye-opening documentary The Carbon Rush and find out about hydroelectric dams in Panama, waste incinerators in India, and palm oil and eucalyptus plantations in Honduras and Brazil, and discover that many of these mega projects are little more than a sham.

The inaugural Cape Town Eco Film Festival takes place at the Labia Theatre on Orange Street in Cape Town from Thursday the 27th of March to Monday the 31st of March.

Don’t miss it!

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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