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Grass Roots Hempowerment

by Dylan Muhlenberg / 30.07.2009

Not that religion is anything worth basing this argument on, still, it’s worth noting how God, right off the bat, says the following in Genesis 1:12 ‘I have given you all the seed-baring plants and herbs to use.’

And, whether He said it or not, for 8 000 years or so hemp was the world’s largest agricultural crop, producing the majority of our fibre, paper, fabric, oil (food and lighting) and medicines. Today it’s often confused with its narcotic cousin, marijuana, and farming hemp is banned in most countries, even though you can’t get high off of it. Not farming hemp is like not farming the button mushrooms you buy at the Checkers because there are some psychoactive strains out there. Kind of makes you want to say fuck more times than Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

Now I’d be the first person to stand up for the virtues of the narcotic – I love me my dagga! – but then my civil liberty issue comes second to the have-not’s not having. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists food, clothing and shelter at the base of his pyramid, and the wonder plant, hemp, provides for all three of these physiological needs.

Tony Budden is a green consultant and founded the Hemporium. He wears shoes. He doesn’t smell of forest discharge. You see, the environment is far too important to leave in the hands of the Granola Brigade, and it’s guys like Tony who will do more to stymie this whole shithouse going up in flames than all the dreadlocked dream-catching dudes digging on Naomi Klein. So we met up to talk hemp. Over coffee, thankyouverymuch.


Mahala: How did you get hip to hemp?

Tony: Thirteen years ago Hemp was very much counter culture, the wear-what-you-smoke brigade, and we fell into it by chance after a friend’s father brought back a fabric sample, he was a textile importer, and we started making bags for our friends. It grew from there and the more we learned the more we discovered that the smoking side is not what it’s about at all.

How so?

You don’t make clothes from dagga. Some strains of cannabis give you good fibre, some give you good seeds, some give you good flowers, heads, which makes you high… but there are more non-psychoactive strains than there are psychoactive strains.’

Still, you can’t grow hemp in the states. Why?

‘The theory why America refuses to recognise the difference between hemp and dagga is this: In the 30s there was that whole Reefer Madness campaign, and the Hirst corporation was behind that, running propaganja in their papers. So it started way back then. Today the DEA gets a massive budget to eradicate marijuana in the wild. They come back at the end of the year and tell the government that they’ve eradicated 20 million plants and get their big budget for the next year. But most of it is hemp – what the kids there call ditch weed. Nobody would smoke it – it’s not psychoactive – but because they’re only destroying about one million psychoactive strains, they’re blissful in their ignorance.

And here?

‘The pressure is coming from the States. We’re indebted to the states. In the 80s America got a whole lot of third world countries into debt – loaned them money knowing that they wouldn’t be able to pay them back – and when they couldn’t pay back that debt they took their oil, their forests and if there’s a UN vote then they’d have to align themselves with the states. So through that they tell us what we can or can’t do. So that’s why none of the third world countries are benefiting from this wonder plant. Even though it’s a third world solution. It’s just this crazy control where they give us foreign aid for agriculture, but then we have to buy all our fertilizers from an American company…’

So who is growing hemp?

About 40 countries farm hemp, and they’ve just built a 55 million pound processing plant in England. China aims to bring three million people out of poverty by 2020, because the farmers are doubling their crops with hemp.


You have fibre on the outside in the bark on the stalk, on the inside you have your stalk matter that you can make bricks and paper from, and at the top you’re still getting the flower with seeds, you got your oils, your seeds, so that’s nutrition (essential acids, amino acids, omega 369 and a very good protein).

So it truly is a wonder plant.

Food, shelter, job creation from a plant that doesn’t need pesticides or fertilizers! It’s one of the most efficient users of sunlight, doesn’t need much water, is very versatile… The biggest demand for fibre is the car industry. Because it’s such a long, strong fibre, they’re replacing door panels, dashboards and everything with fibre-grass, which is bio-degradable, safe to work with, doesn’t take a lot of energy to make and is just a better material than fiberglass.

Is the fabric any different to what most other clothing is made from?

Hemp is anti-bacterial, so your feet won’t smell if you wear the socks, the shirts breathe better, so they don’t smell as badly. Cotton is a pesticide crop, and that’s why they push it because it supports the agri-chemical industry and cotton uses 25% of the world’s pesticides. Hemp uses none.

Sounds frustrating.

It is. We’re holding a solution to something that can make huge changes and I’m stuck in the clothing industry and making locally, which is the worst short-term business decision ever. The cost of landing fabric here and turning it into product is huge. We have to deal with four different factories to make a t-shirt, whereas in china you have a machine where the yarn goes in one side and a shirt comes out the other end.

So what do you need to do?

Our aim is to grow it here. We use the clothing to spread awareness. People have such a stigmas against the plant, and most people only know about smoking it, but the minute you can touch and feel and have a tactile experience with it then it’s able to change your perceptions.

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  1. djf says:

    Nice interview. I’d be very interested to see whether anyone posts a comment arguing why we shouldn’t be cultivating the stuff locally?

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  2. Mary says:

    You can get local dispensations even to grow the psycho-active varieties (for Netherlands market) so surely you could get permission to grow hemp legally!

    Or maybe the worry is that huge plantations of hemp would make it too easy to hide that you’re growing marijuana.

    Not that farmers in the Eastern Cape seem to have any problem hiding their marijuana plantations as it is.

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  3. cheech says:

    you can’t hide a dagga plant in a field of hemp because the hemp will cross pollinate, or something, with the dagga and it will spoil the heads.

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  4. Dean says:

    i got one of those hemporium tees a few rocking the daisies ago, and the bugger is so coarse and uncomfortable that i felt like i was wearing a maize sack. not to mention it far from holds its shape. and what would happen to the agri-chemical industry if everyone was to use hemp? support one job creating scheme over another seems a little hypocritical. far too convenient to jump on the pesticide bandwagon – just mention chemicals and hippies reach for their placards, without having the faintest clue how important and intrinsic they are to our survival. i’ll stick to my pesticide riddled cotton tees, thankyouverymuch.

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  5. Nathan Zeno says:

    Deans comment – chemicals and pesticides are intrinsic to our survival?

    did anyone else do a double take on reading that?

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  6. Dean says:

    Nathan, where do you think we’d be without DDT? Wanna do a double take on that? Those pesky mosquitoes would’ve killed millions more than they already have if it wasn’t being used. That’s one example, i’ll pull out a couple more if you really need them.

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  7. Nathan Zeno says:

    Dean, so right now you would say that the humans are winning the war against nature through the use of chemicals?

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  8. djf says:

    Erm, if I’m not mistaken DDT was banned a few decades ago for a very good reason?

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  9. Dean says:

    in many places it was banned, for two clear reasons. one, it was incorrectly applied by over-zealous organisations (much like many things – incorrect application can render a seemingly harmless product hazardous), and two, because eco-warriors took it upon themselves to get the product banned without any knowledge of it. and they did a good enough job to spread the propaganda to people who actually had no idea, but liked the idea that they were “doing something good for the environment.” and, ultimately, to the detriment of thousands of people still grappling with malaria (who can’t afford medication, healthcare, even mosquito nets) in the rest of africa.

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  10. djf says:

    It doesn’t appear that this is a simple situation – lots of evidence of questionable side effects scientifically documented from several countries.

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  11. chong says:

    [Kool Keith]
    I look at rappers with maximun equation
    X-ray vison invasion
    Rhyme connects perfects insects
    That crawl and try to bite my rhymes
    Pesticides I’m the double D combine the T
    that’s DDT
    A chemical more to better to burn
    Roaches, germs, mouse, lice, termites and percunious bugs
    Or try thugs who perpetrate
    Nothing within contaminate
    Got my gloves on
    So bring turtle doves on
    Watch me pluck em and pick em
    Stick em kick em and vic em
    I see you’re featherless
    You got the birdy disease
    Bite any rhymes that I have for ya
    The poison is bad for ya stupid
    You’re equal measure to dirt dust grime and puss
    You’re just a rappin infection
    Dirtlizin my section like a six-legga
    Ya betta step off and walk ya pure roach

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  12. Dean says:

    nice one chong!

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  13. Sean says:

    Despite his chemical crusade, Dean has a point about the uncomfortable T situation. Most of the hemp clothing I’ve come across has been on the hippy-er side of things, which is cool if you dress like an art teacher, but it’s not for me. Hopefully they can develop hemp fabric that’s as comfortable as cotton and denim (maybe they have already, I’m pretty ignorant about it) then it’ll lose the hippy stigma and the world changing can begin…

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  14. Tone says:

    Dean, take your T, turn it inside out and wash it a few times. Hemp fibre softens with wear, so the older it gets, the more comfortable it is…

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  15. curly says:

    make marijuana legal

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  16. Andy says:

    Hang on a second Curly, I’ll see what I can do…

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  17. downstairs says:

    i’m sure Dean works and/or somehow profits from the agri-chemical industry.

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  18. Justin fiske says:

    Best of luck Tony.

    Small victories ( for you) being won in the states:


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  19. carlos says:

    @ Dean – your choice of t-shirt fabric is a personal issue, but your comments re pesticides are misinformed. Read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson if you’re interested in why pesticides are not a good thing.

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  20. Garth says:

    Hemp is really awesome. What Tony doesn’t mention is the interview is that hemp is also extremely strong. I have a T-shirt made from hemp that I bought from a flea-market about 12 years ago, and I am still wearing it!!! It hasn’t stretched out of shape, and looks pretty much as it did when I bought it 12 years ago. Show me a cotton T-shirt that can do that, despite the fancy label.

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  21. Dean says:

    in an ideal world, sure, we’d live off the land, plant our apples in the freshly turned untainted soil, and then nestle down next to our camp fires. but, in our current state of development, it’s simply ridiculous to say “abolish the evil pesticides”. the only way to come even close to feeding the billions of starving kids throughout the world is to make use of genetically engineered crops controlled with the right pesticides. sure, you’re happy to stay green and abolish chemicals, but at what expense? the reality, whether you like it or not, is that the only way to even come close to producing enough food and crops to serve the sky-rocketing population throughout the world is to make use of such chemicals.

    you can continue buy into the eco-warriors out there who are starting to make as much money and be as misleading as many of the smaller chemical companies (just check the prices at woolworths – the EXACT same apples sell for 5 bucks more because they have an “organic” label slapped on them). i suggest you catch a wake up, and educate yourself on the value of correctly administered chemicals, rather than suck up all the green-speak propaganda.

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  22. Nathan Zeno says:


    bwa ha ha ha ha !!! you buy that bullshit!! about feeding the hungry with GM crops. ha ha ha aha aha aha aha ha . Idiot!

    a: Before GM crops enough wheat and corn to feed the “developing” world twice over was destroyed (and paid for by the Govt through farm subsidies) in Amerika every year in order to keep prices where they were.

    b: it works for the First world to keep developing nations hungry. Do i really have to explain how and why? are you that misinformed?

    c: if you think Woolworths organic is anything more than a corporate marketing strategy designed to profit off consumerist guilt then I feel a little sorry for you.Maybe you should try Everfresh or fruit n veg city or a farmers market and then see the price differences.

    d: how the fuck is a patented seed that does not reproduce and you need a license to buy plus needs expensive “nutrient” back up to grow going to empower people to feed themselves? Or must they continue to live off “aid”, essentially packages of inferior or unsaleable produce?

    e. green speak propaganda? okay. And what propaganda are you sucking up. Because right now you sure are sucking.

    f. Correctly administered chemicals. Who calls on correct?

    I cannot wait for your reply, you are so determined to be right that you continue to dig yourself into a hole.

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  23. Dean says:

    i personally would have found it very hard to have taken the same stance that mugabe did a few years back, when he said he wouldn’t take millions of tons of gm food to feed his starving population. you think a starving kid on the street really gives a shit about the politics behind it? if you can side with this stance, based on your argument above, then good for you. but to call someone an idiot for supporting this stance is idiotic in itself.

    your argument that america destroyed all that wheat and corn is irrelevant to my argument, if there is actually any solid evidence, rather than that of an anecdotal nature, to back that all up. i doubt it. that said, almost anything can be held to ransom. because the oil companies have such power over the price and distribution of oil doesn’t mean it’s the oil that’s the problem, it’s the companies at the top.

    if you took some time to understand my stance, instead of jumping on your soapbox, then you might understand where i’m coming from. in fact, you go some way to support my argument. i never said woolworths organic is anything but a corporate strategy – it’s a total load of bullshit. read what i wrote. but all these green-crusaders still believe they’re doing their thing for the environment by buying into this corporate crap are doing a hell of a lot of damage to this movement. the same goes for the biscuit mill, and many other farmers’ or organic markets – because their honey has an organic label slapped on it, or their chocolate is “organic” (whatever the fuck that means – i bet you 99% of people who buy it have no idea either), it’ll cost you twice as much. but you’ve already agreed with me here. in fact, a number of products that have been around for years and years would fall under this organic label, but until now, it’s gone unlabelled. and hasn’t been exploited for profits.

    not all gm crops consist of patented seeds, and not all are as limited and restricted as you describe. again, buying in to the propaganda. read up about rice that has vitamin a supplements that can stop kids from going blind, and ultimately dying, in countries where access to direct handout vitamins is impossible. kids need these vitamins, and it’s far more empowering to offer communities seeds that offer nutrient rich crops, which have been designed to grow under particularly harsh conditions, rather than handing out vitamins from the back of a truck. you’re not saying we shouldn’t offer medical assistance to the rest of africa now, are you? oh wait, it seems you are.

    finally, your question about correctly administered chemicals is totally laughable. scientists have spent years and years working out exact doses, and directions for application, of the major chemicals. figuring out their exact breakdown, how they affect the environment, and incredibly detailed and researched cost/benefit analyses. much like doctors do with medication. it’s science mate – the same stuff that’s behind almost everything we live off. or do you propose that we abolish science for all things natural?

    thing is, you’re clearly very upset with large chemical companies, and america, and you’re letting this cloud your judgement. there definitely are sharks out there ready to screw africa over – that’s the reason so much of it is in a total mess – but that’s not to say that the products that they might have used are to blame. it’s simply ridiculous to do so.

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  24. Tone says:

    Dean, some reading for you


    The answer lies literally in the Earth.
    Small scale farming based on organic principles on soil that is alive with all the minerals and micro-organisms present do not require pesticides and fertilisers to get maximum yields.
    Soil that has ben depleted through chemically intensive monoculture farming cannot produce any health plants without outside assistance.
    Healthy soil = healthy plants.
    Work with nature, not against it.
    We need to regenerate whatever topsoil we have left back to being organic and alive, and whatever we plant on it will thrive.
    Agro-chemicals are no substitue for dead soil.

    Yes, I am a green crusader and fucking proud of it, and I will not leave my future in the hands of some corporate agrobusiness and its “scientists” who tell me that the seeds I have will not grow unless I buy their product to go with it.
    This will only lead to economic slavery for all farmers, and food that is so corrupt with chemicals and nutritionally devoid that anything with a brain the size of a chicken would not eat it…
    Check: http://www.int.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=143&art_id=vn20090802102554511C805624

    Anyway, your viewpoint may be valid in the short term if we are looking to feed people for the next few years, but if we want to extend beyond that, we need to look at a move back to nature.
    We can all choose a horse to back. Yours is fast and pumped full of performance enhancers and steroids, but will no doubt have a shortened lifespan and many complex issues that will arise in its body from being pumped full of chemicals.
    Mine is free range, eats organic food and gets all it needs from the earth, but I guarantee it will still be running once yours has keeled over from system failure.

    Time will tell…

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  25. Nathan Zeno says:

    Dean, now I’m starting to hear what you are saying. And I agree with most of it. But we must be careful how we define things.

    GM I tend to always take for Montasano (sp?).

    Yes grain prices are manipulated by destorying stock, evidence i cannot provide right away but a friend whose parents farm in the mid west have often had their stockpiles paid for and then destroyed on the farm. I will try find you some evidence.

    The Mugabe example is an unfortunate one, primariy because he wouldn’t have needed the bail out if he hadn’t embezzeled so much money and then blamed everything on imperialists, but i get your point.

    The reason your comments about GM and DDT upset most people because mostly there is no pure science anymore. There is often an agenda behind these things and to think that there is never one is a bit short sighted.

    No I don’t think we should or can return to all things natural, but over engineering for profit can lead to many dangers.

    And Doctors and Scientists are not infallible.

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  26. Piet says:

    Legal?The stuff is growing next to the highway on the N3 to Duban and most other places in Natal ,Do you want a joint or a shirt?

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  27. chris says:

    Hemp seeds are great when fishing carp. They love it on the hook and as ground bait.
    Anyone know where to get some seeds?

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  28. lanky says:

    I have seen hemp seeds being sold on weed.co.za or those could be other seeds, or actually i dont know, just that i ate the seeds at one of thier gigs once.

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  29. Reuben Sedite says:

    religious implication

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