Some still remember hemp and how it was grown throughout Italy in the past. Italy was the second largest producer of hemp in the world, second only to Russia, it was mainly used to make long lasting ropes and fabric materials.
Over the years hemp has been increasingly associated with the psychoactive effects caused by THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. In Italy this led to the banning of both varieties of Cannabis, namely Indica and Sativa (mostly associated with marijuana).
In 1998 the prohibition was lifted by the Ministry of agricultural policies and guidelines were set which farmers must follow to avoid confusion with Cannabis varieties associated with “drugs”.
Nowadays in Italy hemp is cultivated by 250 farmers nationwide over a total area of 1,200 hectares. The World’s largest producers are China, Germany, Chile, North Korea, Canada and Czechoslovakia.
In Italy there has been a clear increase in hemp cultivation over the last few years.
This positive trend is mainly driven by the increase in the use of hemp fibre being used in a number of ways across different industries such as: home furnishing (textiles and rugs), the construction industry (insulation, bricks etc.) and paper. Furthermore, flour and oil are extracted from the hemp seeds.
Hemp’s extraordinary properties have facilitated the “rediscovery” and the growing interest of consumers and businesses alike. In fact, rich in Omega 3 and 6, the seeds are full of protein, anti-oxidants, fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. What’s more, ongoing research reveals new and interesting ways in which this plant can be used across different industries from cars to construction.
The versatility of this plant is extremely wide and even the waste from hemp processing can be used as food for livestock.
In Norimberga, Germany, at the fair “Biofach”, Marco Cartechini, a young producer of extra virgin olive oil based in Montecassiano, (Central Italy) discovered the extraordinary properties of hemp – it was love at first sight. Marco and his brother Roberto, started experimenting with oil extraction from hemp seeds as well as developing a line of products made out of hemp.
A new Start Up “Food Brothers” was born and along with this new company the brothers launched a new brand, “made in natura”. They also set up a new production plant alongside the existing olive oil mill focusing on mechanical oil extraction without using chemical solvents. Today the Food Brothers produce different types of oil from olives, hemp, sunflower and sesame. This has also meant that the company does not rely solely on olive oil production.
The Food Brothers’ business strategy is to focus on quality products relying on a short supply chain. The hemp used to produce oil and flour is grown in the fields surrounding the company’s pressing plant. Nearby, pasta factories and bakers turn hemp flour into fresh pasta and biscuits.
When asked if hemp is a sound business for the future Marco Cartechini answered: “In 2015 the company turnover generated by the production and sale of oil from hemp, sunflower and sesame doubled compared to the previous year. Furthermore, turnover generated by the sale of biscuits, pasta and chocolate made from hemp flour increased by 20 per cent year on year. It’s a product with great possibilities but a big effort in marketing is needed. We estimate that in two to three years we will start reaping the full benefits of hemp production”.
Article by Luana Spernanzoni
Luana is a freelance journalist whose main areas of expertise are the agriculture and livestock farming sectors. She also specialises in food, including organic and vegan diets.
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