‘Hemp can work wonders for the agriculture of Latin America’

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INTERVIEW: Lorenzo Rolim da Silva is a consultant to international companies in the development of medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp projects, and is affiliated with Rhizo Sciences, Australia. He started his career in cannabis in California in 2015, later returning to Brazil to work in the first medicinal cannabis company based in the country in partnership with Bedrocan Brazil. After a few years of international consulting, Rolim da Silva dedicated his efforts to develop technologies in fiber processing. He is president and founder of the newly formed Latin American Industrial Hemp Association.

HempToday: What was the impetus behind the formation of the new Latin American hemp association?

Lorenzo Rolim da Silva: We realized that Latin America needed an organization to speak on behalf of industry stakeholders. We understood that all other great hemp production regions (Europe, Canada, USA, China) had hemp industry associations, and that these organizations were pivotal for the proper development of the local regulations and laws. And we noticed that Latin America as a whole was far behind in that scenario when compared to these regions. We aim to become the unified voice of the hemp industry across Latin America.

HT: What are the common challenges to hemp across Latin America & the Caribbean?

LR: Lack of sensible regulations to produce hemp properly. We see many cases of countries that completely prohibit hemp and cannabis to be grown (like Brazil) and many more that have limited regulatory frameworks, creating a series of barriers and difficulties for the development of the industry. The truth is that many people in our region are still ignorant when it comes to hemp and cannabis, and prejudice is halting the development of what could be a major economic boost for Latin America, which is much needed during these challenging times.

HT: Which Latin American countries do you see taking the leadership positions in the hemp industry?

LR: Colombia and Uruguay are already a few years ahead of the rest in terms of production. Both countries were pioneers in regulating cannabis production and developing the local industry, many times with foreign investment. Both countries have focused their efforts on the medicinal and pharmaceutical industries but I believe soon enough we’ll see an uptake of industrial hemp for other purposes. Of course, once we have comprehensive legislation all across the region, it is likely that the current agricultural leaders will quickly take the leadership, and by agricultural leaders I mean Brazil and Argentina in the south and Mexico up north. We may also see interesting scenarios in countries like Chile, Peru and Paraguay in the near future.

HT: What is the potential for the export of hemp products from Latin America? Which countries have the best, first opportunities to gain this business? And with what kind of products?

LR: So far most of the opportunities around hemp in Latin america are focused on the medicinal industry, so we can see the export of bulk biomass, flowers, extracts and cosmetics, coming out of Colombia and Uruguay primarily. But the future potential I see as much bigger than that. Brazil is a leader in the global cellulose and paper industry, which is mostly an export market, and they can benefit greatly from large scale hemp production locally. Also, many food supply chains could have the added value of hemp grains in the region, keeping in mind that these countries are leaders in the production of poultry, pork, cattle and more. I see hemp much more as a crop that will add a lot of value to the already existing export supply of other commodities.

HT: What can hemp do to lift the agriculture sector across the region? What’s needed to get constructive programs in place for farmers who want to grow hemp?

LR: Hemp can work wonders for the agriculture of Latin America. The models currently being experimented with are showing benefits for both small and large scale farmers. The problem here is that there is an enormous lack of knowledge about hemp, so the focus must be on education for the farmers, with materials explained in their native languages; we need to reach out to farmers that are located in isolated regions, and start identifying what are the best products that can be produced by hemp in each region. For example, I see Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as good examples of climate conditions that support the production of high quality flowers and biomass. On the other hand, countries like Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina have regions with ideal climate for the production of grains and fibers, not to mention the already established supply chains for both. With time the industry will self adjust and these possibilities will be turned into real gains.

HT: Growing hemp for food would seem to be a logical sector for LatAm stakeholders. What is the potential for growing and producing hemp foods? 

LR: Immense. The region is already responsible for producing most of the world’s soybeans, corn, cotton, coffee, a lot of wheat and rice, many fruits and vegetables, not to mention the livestock industry that is also among the world’s largest for cattle, pork and poultry as I’ve said before. Considering the nutritional value of hemp grains, with high amounts of protein and Omega fats, and the plant’s low water requirement when compared to other crops, it is easy to see how hemp could become one of the best options to be used for animal feed in our region. 

All that being said, we haven’t even talked about using hemp for human consumption, something that is very rare across our region today. In Brazil, for example, you can’t find any hemp foods in grocery stores and supermarkets. Right there you have a market of 210 million people who never had any contact with these amazing products most people are already familiarized with in Europe and North America.

HT: How do you see the THC limits playing out across the region in light of the trend toward 1.0% THC in hemp – which LatAm countries seem to be adopting?

LR: That is a very welcome approach that the two pioneers of our region decided to follow: Uruguay and Colombia. We are also seeing a 0.5% limit in Paraguay. This is important due to the tropical climates of our region, which can more easily increase the THC content of hemp plants. 

What we hope to achieve with the association is to stimulate the countries’ regulatory authorities to talk and exchange information so that everyone understands this necessity, making it easier to move products across the region and stimulating bilateral commerce opportunities for the countries. I personally believe that globally we are past due in the understanding of 1.0% limits in hemp levels of THC. That level cannot be considered harmful or dangerous, and lower limits only create additional restraints to this industry. I hope Europe and North America follow this trend in the near future.

HT: We notice you’ve done some work in African countries. What can you tell us about the potential for the hemp industry in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and South Africa?

LR: Yes, I was blessed enough to be able to connect with people from this region of the world as well. Africa, just like Latin America, is an enormous opportunity waiting to be developed. The people from these countries are ready to enact this change, and many times are held back only by poorly written regulations and the wild speculations of the financial markets. If people are willing to put their boots on the ground and do the hard work, there are enormous opportunities in that region. 

I can easily see Africa and Latin America giving Europe and North America a run for their money in the hemp industry in the near future. We can outcompete in terms of pricing, availability of land, fresh water resources; and we have a climate that allows year round production in agriculture, favoring the prices of these commodities greatly. We did it once for soybeans and corn, and we can do it again for hemp. We just need the opportunity to do so.

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