In 2011, when Sumit Shah and his friends were business students, they worked on a youth initiative to provide solar electricity to rural households which highlighted a set of far-reaching rural challenges and the subsistence use of Cannabis. Then inspired by a small town in Australia that ran primarily on hemp, they launched India’s first vertically integrated industrial hemp and medical cannabis start-up set to push against the currents of unemployment, inadequate healthcare, and climate change. “Our next step was to discover the regions where cannabis and hemp are widely available in India. It led to an exploration of how the crop could provide livelihood opportunities for the local communities,” the Co-Founder of Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO) informs Rural Marketing’s N. Bobo Meitei in an interview.
What prompted you to launch BOHECO? Give a glimpse of the journey since its inception?
In 2011, when we were business students, we worked on ‘Project Chirag’, a youth initiative to provide solar electricity to rural households which highlighted a set of far-reaching rural challenges and the subsistence use of Cannabis. Far away from these realities was a small town in Australia that ran primarily on Hemp. We drew inspiration from that simple idea and channelled our learnings from business school, ‘Project Chirag’, and our travels through rural India to build BOHECO, India’s first vertically integrated industrial hemp and medical cannabis start-up set to push against the currents of unemployment, inadequate healthcare, and climate change.
Our next step was to discover the regions where Cannabis and Hemp are widely available in India. It led to an exploration of how the crop could provide livelihood opportunities for the local communities. We set base in Uttarakhand, where the crop grows indigenously. Here, we witnessed Hemp transform into charming handlooms for the first time in contemporary India. We began work with 25 families all over Uttarakhand where a total of 150 women weavers were employed with our on-ground partners and trained to weave with Hemp yarn. On receiving the license to manufacture cannabis-leaf and hemp seed-based products, we established BOHECO’s health and wellness division (earlier known as BOHECO Life). The FSSAI notification recognizing hemp seeds and its derivatives as a superfood which was announced at the end of 2021 provided a much-needed thrust towards the acceptance of hemp as a rich source of nutrition and overall wellbeing.
Through strategic collaborations with government and private entities, we are conducting seed breeding, standardization and clinical trials to understand the depth and width of cannabis’ applications across agriculture, health, wellness, textiles, plastics, construction among several other sectors.
Give us a view of your product portfolio and which is your best performing product/s?
We primarily operate within four broad categories – Textiles, Nutrition, Wellness and Health (Prescription-based products). Our textile vertical works with yarns, 100% hemp and hemp-blended fabrics as well as clothing. While the wellness products comprise of nutrition products along with topical products targeted towards arthritis, muscle pains and sprains, menstrual cramps, psoriasis and eczema, and overall skin health; the prescription portfolio is indicated for specific ailments from chronic and neuropathic pain to sleep, stress, insomnia, palliative care as well as sexual, reproductive and digestive wellness. Considering each product is designed to address a particular ailment, every product is a best performer however, GLIDE, for arthritis and joint pain; SLEEP, for insomnia and stress; PEACE, for chronic and neuropathic pain, BLOOM, for menstrual pain and cramps and PRISTINE, for psoriasis and eczema are the most popular products in the health and wellness segment.
How does BOHECO ensure sustainability in the farm-to-market journey?
Working closely with hemp has compelled us to imbue sustainability in everything we do. While India is not at the stage of large-scale commercial cultivation yet, even one hectare of hemp has the ability to absorb 15 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, making it a crucial crop to address climate change. Besides this, we also ensure responsible disposal of effluents through our manufacturing process in addition to using sustainable, recyclable packaging for our products.
What is the size of the industry and what growth figure do you foresee?
The global industrial hemp market size was estimated at USD 4.13 billion in 2021, with the Asia Pacific dominating the sector with a share of 32.4% and a projected CAGR of 16.8% from 2022 to 2030. The Indian hemp ecosystem has immense potential to witness exponential growth once we are collectively able to identify and extrapolate its benefits to various sectors from agriculture to health, nutrition, construction, textiles, plastics and more.
Being a highly regulated crop, what challenges do you face?
Cannabis has always been perceived with a myopic view which has resulted in low awareness, which poses a significant barrier to cannabis research. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to contextualize policies pertaining to industrial hemp and medical cannabis to the Indian ecosystem which will ensure sustainable, long-term growth. The low awareness at the federal level also has a trickle-down effect from the policy makers to the enforcement officers, which further exacerbates the challenges. However, as the concept of industrial hemp and medical cannabis becomes more mainstream the industry has certainly become very conducive which is reflected in the launch of numerous hemp and cannabis-based start-ups in the past three years.
What measures do you have in place to ensure that the crop cultivated, let’s say, in the Himalayas is not misused?
Since our inception, we have been working closely with government organizations right from understanding and formulating the policies to driving research and seed breeding projects as well as sourcing raw materials from them. Public Private Partnerships with the government will be instrumental in ensuring quality, safety and transparency within the value chain. We ensure responsible and ethical dispensation for our consumption products under the guidance of a licensed medical practitioner and a valid prescription which also prevents misuse.
How do you see BOHECO in the next 5 years?
Over the past few years, we have come to see the difference cannabis-based remedies can make to health and well-being. The more we probe, the more we discover what this super crop can help us achieve. Our research and development efforts have been in pursuit of such discoveries, which has resulted in focused efforts to identify and solve for ailments through the medical cannabis lens. We have recently launched a range of products targeting sexual, digestive and menstrual wellness with several products in the pipeline for 2022-2023. BOHECO’s mission is to empower patients to improve their quality of life through symptomatic relief from chronic and neuropathic ailments while contributing positively to the environment and advancing sustainability.
RuralMarketing.in is now on Telegram. Click here to join Rural Marketing on Telegram and stay updated with the latest news and updates on rural business and the economy.