Industrial Hemp produces seed for food and oils, stalk for fibre and woody core, and flowers for extracts. One plant - making food, housing materials, clothing and medicine!


There are many different names for the Cannabis plant, but 'hemp' actually refers to the industrial variety, producing internationally traded products forming a multi-million dollar industry worldwide

Cannabis is believed to be one of the oldest cultivated crops and was widely used in industrial and medical fields. Industrial products such as sails, ropes, and textiles for uniforms were made from the fibre and woody core of the tall, sturdy cannabis plants, and hemp’s strength and durability was revered worldwide. The plant can produce hemp seed oil yields of 30%, as well as a nutritious plant based protein powder that is excellent for health. Depending on the final product, the cannabis plant was bred with certain characteristics leading to the type of cannabis we know as hemp.

Other plants were recognized for being psychoactive and were bred selectively for medical and religious purposes. This lead to unique varieties of cannabis known now as marijuana. The separation of the cannabis gene pool led to two species (or sub-species) known as Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. The two, however, are rarely found in their pure form and most varieties in the world are hybrids. Hemp is mainly a Northern hemisphere crop where industrial hemp has been bred and cultivated for centuries.

In Africa, the word 'hemp' is unfortunately linked to the marijuana variety of Cannabis known in Malawi as 'indian hemp'. However, this is not semantically correct and traditional definitions prove difficult to reset in people’s minds. Hemp in Malawi is unfortunately not equated with plant based plastics, nutritious food, or military grade fabric.  Invegrow has been trying to rectify this through an educational campaign and awareness raising - we want to reclaim the name hemp!



Hemp | 8000 years strong

 Hemp, known in other languages as asa, hanf, hamp, chanvre, bhang, canamo, kannab or cannabis, is thought to be one of the earliest plants cultivated for the production of a textile fibre.

8000 BC

It was only during the last century that cannabis hemp has been associated with its narcotic cousin marijuana and therefore banned in many countries. For 8000 years or more before that it was the world’s largest agricultural crop, producing the majority of our fibre, paper, fabric, lighting oil, medicines, as well as food oil and protein for both humans and animals.

According to the Columbia History of the World, “The earliest known woven fabric was apparently of hemp, which began to be worked in the eighth millennium (8000-7000 BC).”

2800 BC

It appears from historical evidence that hemp originated in central Asia, between the Himalayas and Siberia, and then spread through the migration of man to all corners of the earth. More varieties are found in China than anywhere else and a statement from the “Lu Shi”, a Chinese text from the Sung dynasty (500 AD) says that Emperor Shen Nung (2800 BC) first taught the Chinese people to cultivate “ma” (hemp) for fibre. There is no evidence of the ancient Chinese using cannabis as a drug, only for fibre, food from the seeds, and later as fuel.

Hemp was grown as a fibre crop in Northern India since at least the eighth century, and according to Mayhayana Buddhist legends, Buddha lived on a single hemp seed a day during his path to enlightenment. More recently cannabis in India was produced almost exclusively for its drug content, and this is where the name Indian Hemp, referring to marijuana, comes from.

Herodotus (450 BC) wrote that the Thracians and Scythians used hemp extensively, and it was most likely that the Scythians introduced hemp to Europe during their westward migration (around 1500 BC).

100 AD

It was around 100 A.D. that the plant was named Cannabis Sativa by the Roman surgeon Dioscorides who described various medicinal uses. At the same time Pliny wrote a manual on farming hemp and explained its industrial uses.

In Japan, hemp or “Asa” has a long history, and is believed to have first been introduced by Chinese merchants. It is fundamental in many of the Shinto religions rituals and has been used as a clothing and food source for many thousands of years.


The incredible diversity and usefulness of the hemp plant accelerated its spread to almost every continent and culture. Because of its strength and durability as a fabric and cord, it was used almost exclusively in the sails and rigging on the ships that left Europe to discover the world. King Phillip of Spain (1564) even ordered that hemp be cultivated throughout his empire, and many wars were fought over the supply of it.

Wherever the explorers landed, hemp was one of the first seeds they propagated as it grew so quickly and could meet so many of their requirements for clothing, food and fuel. Hemp soon spread from Europe to North and South America in the 1500’s and at a later stage Australia where many people survived a famine in the 1800’s by eating hemp seed as protein and hemp leaves as roughage.

As with everywhere else that hemp was cultivated, it fast became the crop of choice in the new colonies in North America, many of them making hemp cultivation mandatory for all farmers. To promote it further, hemp was even accepted as legal tender and taxes could be paid with hemp.

Hemp had become so important that George Washington urged farmers to sow the hemp seed everywhere, growing it himself, and Thomas Jefferson called hemp a “necessity”. The American Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper, as well as the first pair of Levi jeans being constructed out of robust hemp fabric.


Hemp continued to flourish and meet many of the needs of the colonialists until the middle of the 19th century when new tropical fibres were introduced, the petrochemical age began, steamships replaced sails and the toxic sulphur and chlorine processes to make paper from wood pulp was developed.

The Encyclopedia Britannica of 1856 stated: “But it is not as a narcotic and excitant that the hemp plant is most useful to mankind; it is as an advancer rather than a retarder of civilization, that its utility is made most manifest.”


It continued in its rightful place as an important agricultural crop until the 1930’s when new machinery was invented to break the hemp, process the fibre and convert the hurds into paper. This drew the attention of the synthetic fibre producers (nylon had just been invented) and the paper and cotton industry magnates, who believed that they stood to lose billions of dollars if hemp’s commercial potential was fully exploited.

They were largely responsible for the “reefer madness” propaganda campaign that, in 1937, resulted in the outlawing of this natural fibre and, with this, their natural competition. They achieved this by demonising and outlawing the narcotic marijuana and thereby banishing the entire cannabis family, including hemp and its many thousands of legitimate uses.

It was around this time that Henry Ford invented a car (Ford Hemp Car) that had a body made of hemp composites and ran on hemp fuel, in an aim to fulfill his dream of “growing automobiles from the soil”. But because of hemp being banned at the time, and the advances made with the petrochemical industry, petrol was soon the prevailing fuel for motor vehicles, a move that has cost the planet dearly and will continue to do so until we move back to environmentally responsible fuel sources.

1940 – 1955

A few years later, during the Second World War, the legislation was again changed when the Japanese cut off the supplies of Manila hemp needed for uniforms and ropes. The USDA then promoted hemp again with a film “Hemp for Victory”, that urged farmers to grow the crop to meet the fibre demands. After a brief return to favour, hemp was again banned in 1955, and it remains so in the States to this day.


The USA’s attitude towards hemp has influenced many others to adopt similar legislation. Part of the USA’s criteria for foreign aid is the dismantling of the receiving country’s drug industry. Seeing as hemp and marijuana are seen as the same by the US government, a hemp industry would deny any country access to valuable foreign aid.

Recently many countries have recognised hemp’s potential and its value as an environmentally responsible crop. More than 30 nations, including England, France, Germany, China and Canada now have a legal hemp industry, and many more are undertaking research in a move towards a change in legislation.

Although hemp has lost out on nearly a century of technology and market development, farmers and businesses are rediscovering its incredible potential across the planet. As hemp research and cultivation resumes, many more uses for it will be discovered.

The search is on for alternatives to pesticide greedy cotton, forest-destroying paper, war-generating and polluting petrochemicals and nutritionally devoid western diets.

Although hemp is only part of the solution, many believe that it is the only known renewable natural resource that can meet nearly all our requirements to move back to a healthier, greener planet.


1) Hemp Today – Ed Rosenthal
2) The Emperor Wears No Clothes – Jack Herer
3) Hemp – Lyster E. Dewey (Yearbook of USDA 1913)
4) The Hemp Report –
5) Global Hemp (

Trialing extraction of oil and seed cake from the seed from the Malawian trials

Trialing extraction of oil and seed cake from the seed from the Malawian trials

cultivation & legal status in malawi

Hemp and marijuana are grown for different uses, and therefore require different growing conditions. One is agriculture and the other is horticulture. Medical cannabis has been selectively bred over generations, and its characteristics are optimized in its cultivation environment to produce female flowering plants that yield budding flowers at the flowering stage of their life cycle (Sutton).

Hemp plants are “primarily male, without representing flowering buds at any stage in their life cycle.” Instead, centuries of selective breeding have resulted in “relatively low concentrations of THC, and tall, fast growing plants optimized for higher stalk harvests.”

Achieving maximum THC levels in marijuana is tricky and requires close attention to grow-room conditions. Marijuana growers usually aim to maintain stable light, temperature, humidity, CO2 and oxygen levels, among other things.

On the other hand, hemp is usually grown outdoors to maximize its size and yield and less attention is paid to individual plants.

Europe grew around 20,000 hectares of industrial hemp in 2016, Canada over 55,000 hectares in 2017, and although China is the largest producer of fibre, the exact hectarage under cultivation is not known as it is a closely guarded state secret. Australia also grows and process hemp products and exports worldwide. In the USA for example, it is legal to import hemp goods into most countries and the USA imports around $500 million worth of hemp product annually (Hemp Industry Association).

Marijuana, on the other hand, has been the subject of a more emotive debate. Since the USA opened its doors in early 2014 to medical marijuana, it has precipitated a worldwide movement to legalise ‘chamba’ for medical and recreational purposes. This has now been achieved in a number of US states with new regulations. Some states are generating considerable income from the regulated sale of marijuana over the counter. Other countries such as Israel, Canada, and Uruguay are also re-working their laws to legalise marijuana. However, since it is still considered a narcotic it is up to individual governments to assess viability in their own countries.

Currently all forms of Cannabis are illegal in Malawi, but Invegrow and our trials are at the forefront of legislative reform. Until the trials are complete and a Bill presented to Parliament this will remain the case. Invegrow's commercial research licence allows for the cultivation and sale of products for research purposes.