CCT Interview with Mr. Sumit Shah of Bombay Hemp Company

BOHECO was founded in 2013 and has been manufacturing and marketing merchandise fashioned out of hemp fiber, working extensively with government departments to help carve out a space for industrial and medical use of cannabis in India. The company was recently featured on Forbes Lists 30 Under 30- Asia- Industry, Manufacturing & Energy and is one of the top companies involved in the Indian hemp industry.

Mr. Sumit Shah is Co-Founder and Director of Operations & Supply chain for BOHECO. Sumit ensures seamless logistics for the company’s hemp derived raw material and products, from farmers and artisans, to urban markets. He promotes efficient permaculture techniques for cultivation and post-harvest handling. Mr. Shah oversees ground operations and works to improve our supply chain from warehousing to e-commerce shipments. He heads the Hempcrete division of the company’s R&D wing, which explores the use of Industrial Hemp as a green building material.

The following is an exclusive interview conduction by the Cash Crop Today editorial team with Mr. Shah. Our team is proud to be able to interview a member of the BOHECO team, pioneers of the industrial hemp industry in India.


What motivated you to help co-found BOHECO and begin a career working within the industrial hemp industry in India?

The urge to work in agriculture was born during our university days. India is still largely an agrarian society and there are many basic problems which plague this industry. Globally the hemp and cannabis industry are reemerging, and we believe that this crop which is native to India has the potential to revitalize the rural economy. Working with hemp gives us an opportunity to introduce a commodity in India which not only benefits the industry and environment but also the farmers of India. It was with these thoughts that seven of us from HR College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai got together to form Bombay Hemp Company in the January of 2013.

What would the reemergence of the industrial hemp agricultural industry mean for Indian farmers?

Across the world industries are evolving and there are fundamental shifts which are taking place. The material space which was dominated by petrochemical industry too is changing. And that’s where hemp has the potential to become the raw material for a sustainable future and India is in a perfect position to seize this opportunity. The Indian farmers havethe opportunity to be a part of this new industry with a crop that is not only fast-growing, relatively less resource intensive and also highly remunerative. The farmers can be the backbone of a global supply chain. India has a huge textile and industrial ecosystem which can adoptthis material, process it and supply too across the world Hemp is a new industry.

It is my understanding that you currently grow hemp for research purposes so, where does the Bombay Hemp Company receive its industrial hemp from?

Cannabis is a native crop in India and grows naturally in the wild during the monsoon season. We work with various groups to collect this abundant natural raw material which is used for basic research purposes. BOHECO and its partner are working on research projects in various parts of the value chain such as seed, cultivation technology, fibre processing, advanced materials and construction material. We also work with foreign partners who can supply us large quantities of semi – finishedand finished material and this is converted into end product in India. We are also actively promoting hemp yarn and fibers in the Indian market.

Do you participate in the harvesting or processing of the hemp found after monsoon season?

Yes, we work with local farmer producer groups, non governmental organisationsand the government agencies to collect the hemp fiber that’s available in the wild. In order to give the farmers maximum value, they part process the stalk and we purchase the separated fibre from them. We are also working with women weavers associations based in Uttarakhand to develop handloom products such as stoles, shawls and table mats and are in the processing of setting up a fibre processing plant to aid further product development.

Describe your job duties at the Bombay Hemp Company. How do you managedthe company’s supply chain from firstharvest to the finished hemp clothing and gorgeous handlooms sold on your website?

The operations team at BOHECO is responsible for converting the raw material to a finished form. Hemp is a raw material that will be adopted by various industries to make its final product. Therefore, at BOHECO, we work with industry experts and thought leaders to produce and introduce hemp into the market. Simultaneously, we are working on several research and prototyping projects to develop hemp processing expertise in India and connecting the hemp value chain from farm to market. There is tremendous scope for products like bio plastics, composites and paper to be made from hemp. We are focusing on increasing the scale of cultivation and this will make the mention products economically viable.

Sumit, you are also in charge of the HempCrete Division at the BOHECO R&D wing. What are some of the benefits of using industrial hemp as a building material? Describe your role as head of the Hempcrete Division and what research in taking place studying hemp as a green building material.

Hempcrete is a wonderful material for the hot climate of India and the breathable walls help maintain a stable temperature in any season. Globally there has been a lot of research that has been done on hempcrete, however we do believe we need to perfect the premix to suit Indian condition. In India we use RCC (Reinforced Cement Concrete) to make the structural frame instead of timber. Along with this we have an abundant amount of fly ash (ash produced from coal burners) waste and believe this can improve the binder mix. This research project is being conducted at CSIR – CBRI (Central Building Research Institute) and the research is spearheaded by our partner Mr. Tarun Jami from Green Jams Infrastructures LLP and we’re collectively working to create a test structure in a couple of months. This will enable us to test the binder for durability, insulation and mold resistance.

In your opinion, what hurdles do you feel that India needs to overcome to allow the emergence of a commercial industrial hemp industry?

The biggest road blockthat the hemp industry in India is currently facing is the lack of low THC hemp genetics. The government has been extremely supportive, and they see great potential in this industry hence they have created a policy for large scale commercial cultivation of hemp. BOHECO is working with multiple government institutes to develop these seed varieties for the Indian climatic condition. Along with this, consumer awareness and scale of production are critical for the hemp industry to flourish in India. Hemp as a raw material will be adopted by industry only if the consumer demands it or the costs/product features pulls the industry to adopt it. This being said, all these hurdles can be overcome and in the coming years we are confident to be able to product some of the best quality hemp and cannabis products in India.

Does the Indian government favor use of hemp as a commercial building material?

The Government of India has mission of “Housing for all by 2022” under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme. It is under this initiative to that the government plans on constructing more than 20 million affordable houses by 31 March 2022. This is where we believe hempcrete can have great utility especially in the rural parts of India. People have an opportunity to grow their own homes! The Indian construction industry is largely unaware about hempcrete and its benefits and as people learn about this wonder material, the demand is bound to grow.