From 22 to 24 November 2023, German and Uruguayan representatives met for exploratory talks to prepare a joint project on fiber hemp (Cannabis sativa). Both countries want to promote and expand the production, processing, and use of hemp grown as a fibre crop. To intensify their cooperation in this field, representatives of the German Agricultural Ministry (BMEL), the German embassy, and the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) traveled to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, to discuss and agree upon concrete work packages for both countries.
Following initial talks at the Uruguayan Ministry of Agriculture (MGAP) and further discussions with national production and processing companies and the Uruguayan seed chamber, both sides adopted a joint protocol at the final workshop. While the MGAP itself is to carry out the project on the Uruguayan side, the JKI Institute for Breeding Research in Horticultural Crops is responsible for realizing the planned research work on the German side.
Bioeconomy with fiber hemp - an old crop with new significance
For centuries, fiber hemp used to be an important crop in Germany. Due to the length and tensile strength of its fibers, fiber hemp is a suitable raw material for the production of ropes, nonwoven fabrics, paper, and textiles, as well as for the production of leather substitutes, bioplastics, composites, and insulating materials.
Due to the competing chemical, oil, and wood industry products, but also due to the ban on the cultivation of fiber hemp in the years 1982-1996, a lot of expertise, knowledge, and, above all, innovative strength in fiber hemp cultivation and its processing was lost. As a result, the crop is currently only cultivated to a very limited extent in Germany and Uruguay. However, both countries are looking for bio-based alternatives for a range of products that are currently manufactured using fossil resources.
Developing a range of fiber hemp products and evaluating cultivation and processing options
On the basis of existing knowledge, a fiber hemp assortment shall be developed, the characteristics of the various genotypes and varieties described, and modern cultivation and processing techniques tested. In addition, the extent to which fiber hemp is suitable as an agricultural crop for organic cultivation will be considered. Fibre hemp is an undemanding and robust crop. It grows rapidly, which helps to suppress the growth of weeds. It is also known for its soil-improving properties due to its deep roots. Phytopathological problems are very rare.
The exploratory talks took place as part of the German-Uruguayan Bioeconomy Cooperation and the German-Uruguayan Bilateral Cooperation Programme, both funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). The agriculture ministries of both countries wish to conduct joint research into fiber hemp with a view to current technical and breeding possibilities.
Uruguay, which was the first country in the world to legalize the cultivation, sale, and consumption of Cannabis/marijuana as a recreational drug under state supervision in 2013, has acquired considerable expertise in the production, processing, and quality assessment of fiber hemp as well. This makes the country an ideal partner for the BMEL and JKI in the modernization and expansion of fiber hemp production.