Job No. 1: ‘Educate and promote green alternatives based on hemp’

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Hana Gabrielova, founder and CEO at Czech-based Hempoint, is one of Europe’s pioneering and most innovative hemp entrepreneurs and a widely recognized expert on agricultural issues related to hemp and food. Her company consults with farmers on hemp cultivation, and is an organic hemp food producer. Gabrielova is an adviser to the Prague-based International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI), and works on several initiatives dedicated to the environmental aspects of hemp and its potential in green transition and the bio-economy.

HempToday: You were recently named an expert adviser to the European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture initiative. What is that all about?

HG: The ultimate goals are to gather knowledge and document practical experience of industrial farming practices that avoid displacement of food production. The European Commission (EC) has different focus groups which bring together experts on specific subjects to produce reports, factsheets or whatever the EC needs. I will be advocating for hemp and all the different industrial applications in which hemp can replace fossil fuels, accelerate regenerative farming and play an important role in carbon sequestration. The work we do in that group is part of the process of writing legislation.

HT: Part of it is about cutting edge solutions developed through stakeholder collaboration. What kind of solutions and what kind of collaboration?

HG: Last December, the EC published the European Green Deal, a blueprint for transition from our old-school economy to a new bio-economy. The pillars of the bio-economy are very much linked to plant materials, renewable biological resources, climate neutral and circular products, new local value chains from waste and biomass, and other sustainable innovations. In all these areas, hemp can play a vital role and become an essential tool to make this positive shift happen. 

HT: What kind of value chains? What do they look like?

HT: CzecHemp, one of the projects I work on, is one example. It’s a cluster of private companies, public sector entities, research and education institutions who are working to develop the cannabis and hemp industries. We are partners of the Bioeconomy platform of Czech Republic, the European Cluster Cooperation platform and the National Cluster Association, which gives us opportunities to talk to many different active groups and get them in our network not only in the Czech Republic but across the EU. We jointly organize education and other programs.

HT: What are the key challenges facing hemp today?

HG: The first challenge for all hemp stakeholders is to educate and promote green alternatives based on hemp. If we can provide clear taxonomy for classifying hemp products and their environmental benefits as well as their contribution to sustainable activities, this could be a good starting point to advance hemp as an essential tool for global change. Since this would give us a way to classify hemp field carbon sequestration potential, we could call for special taxation aligned with climate change objectives.  

Another challenge is that the hemp industry is still missing guidelines and standards for product quality and sustainable practices. Also, we need more manpower in industrial hemp at all levels. It’s needed now, but we also need to prepare the next generation of hemp industry professionals based on mentoring, and incubating small companies in regional hubs or cooperatives.

General infrastructure and the development of technology specific to hemp also lags somewhat. We have many exciting challenges ahead of us. Solutions are being created.

HT: What’s your view on the most recent delayed UN-CND vote on rescheduling of cannabis and removing it from international drug lists? Where does it leave us, and what’s the effect on industrial hemp?

HG: The cannabis plant has already been illegal for 59 years, so we’ll be patient. I feel positive. It gives us a bit more time for advocacy and it gives governments time to take their decisions about the vote seriously and responsibly. The worst part of the delay, of course, is that it hurts patients who still don’t have access to medical cannabis.

HT: World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations would mean that cannabis preparations for medical use with negligible THC content (less than 0.2%) be removed from the scope of international narcotics control régime. This affects CBD and other extracts. What’s your perspective on this situation?

HG: In my view, the WHO recommendations are irrelevant. All of that is about medicines and the pharmaceutical sector (“drugs”). It’s not about hemp at all. The UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs does not even mention the word hemp and specifically exempts the cannabis plant when it is used for horticultural and industrial purposes (seeds and fiber).  

WHO manages medicine and health, so we can ignore their statements on food, cosmetics, and anything that is not a medicine. For this reason the 0.2% THC limit proposed by WHO only refers to medicines, not to foods or cosmetics that come from hemp.

HT: What can you say about the 2020 planting season based on your sale of cultivation seeds so far this year? How does it compare to years past?

HG: These insecure times may be changing the growing plans of many farmers. Last year the Novel Food issue brought a lot of confusion and insecurity to the market so investors felt disappointed. The upside of that is that a lot of stakeholders are beginning to look into other applications of hemp besides only CBD.

HT: Do you see any significant shift in the kind of seeds customers are buying? Are most seeds still for CBD flowers?

HG: Two years ago 95% of our queries were from people asking for high CBD seeds. I have to constantly remind that we don’t have such seeds registered in the EU catalog, which means they are not legal to be grown in Europe. This year we do have more requests for CBG hemp varieties and fiber hemp. We continue to supply a lot of small packed bags of different seeds varieties, mostly for research purposes. That’s a good sign.

HT: What are your thoughts on the coronavirus? Is it affecting Hempoint’s business? 

HG: It’s really too early to say how things will end up. It does seem that with this coronavirus, people have other stuff to do than pay invoices for the orders they made. So we’re not sure how much in total supply we will do compared to last year. But so far we don’t feel any major impact on our business. We are in the high season of planting seed distribution in the next weeks. Hopefully, the logistics will still work and we’ll be able to deliver our orders.

HT: You travel a lot. Can you point to some unique spots around the globe where interesting things are happening? 

HG: My favorite country is Nepal for sure. Their hemp building project from wild hemp stalk, and hemp charcoal for food supplements are a couple of my favorite projects. India is also a favorite, with their Ayurvedic tradition and cannabis recipes which have been around for hundreds of years but which are not used anymore because the legal supply was cut off by prohibition.

There is a lot of energy in Latin America, as we learned at the Latin American & Caribbean Summit we hosted last November in Uruguay. A lot of interesting innovations are happening in Canada with supercapacitors and hemp food processing technologies. 

HT: As everyone in the industry is forced to slow down because of the coronavirus, how can they constructively use that time?

HG: I hope we’ll take the opportunity to pause, open our eyes and look at what we have done to our Mother Earth, and finally start to bring solutions instead of more destruction. Hemp has a huge role to play in that process.

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