Turkey looks to boost hemp production

When President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stepped up to the podium in Turkey’s presidential palace on January 9, few of the attendees likely expected him to talk about the environment.

Yet his country had just banned plastic bags, so that is precisely what he did. And then his speech took an even stranger turn.

“I remember my mother used to knit bags that we could use for shopping. You don’t throw them away immediately, you can go out shopping with them again. It is earth-friendly, even if you wanted to dispose of it,” he told the Ankara crowd. “These are made of hemp, yet we have destroyed hemp in our country."

Erdoğan went on to reveal that Turkey is set to renew hemp cultivation and encourage the production of a variety of local products with new incentives. The next day, Agriculture Minister Berat Pakdemirli revealed details of the plan.

He said Turkey already allowed hemp cultivation in 19 of its 81 provinces, most of them in central Anatolia and the eastern Black Sea region, and that the government would add more provinces in line with demand. He also said the results of a study of ecological hemp cultivation would soon be made public.

Hemp and marijuana are two different varieties of cannabis. Marijuana plants contain considerable amounts (up to 40%) of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which has psychoactive effects, while hemp has only trace amounts (0.3%). As a result, marijuana is used for medicinal and recreational purposes, while hemp is used mainly in industrial products and textiles.

Turkey’s government aims to revive hemp production with the goal of boosting the country’s troubled economy. The global industrial hemp market is currently valued at $4 billion, but is expected to be worth $10.6 billion by 2025, according to a 2018 report by Grand View Research.

In 2016, Ankara issued a regulation on controlled hemp production, granting permits to 19 provinces in Turkey. Still, annual hemp production, which was between 3,000 and 6,000 tonnes in the 1990s, was just seven tonnes in 2017, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute.

Selim Aytaç of Ondokuz Mayıs University said Turkey imported an average of 100,000 tonnes of hemp a year until 2017. “The exchange rate drove prices up in 2018 and imports of hemp fell,” Aytaç said. Turkey’s dependence on imports became clear, he added.

Ahmet Atalık, head of the Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers, said Turkey had great potential for growing the crop.

"Hemp is the type of plant that can be adapted to a large area in our country and can be widely used in many areas,” said Atalık. “It's a plant that can be grown with no irrigation in the Black Sea region where the rainfall is more than 700 centimetres and with little irrigation in other regions with high relative humidity.”