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Challenges of Promoting Hemp grown in Shandan as a Building Material

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Hemp growing in Shandan

The following article is by Parley Reynolds, who was one of our three NZCFS ‘Class of 2014 Youth Friendship Ambassadors’ and is presently (2017) Business Development Manager in the New Zealand Consulate-General for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

Parley visited Shandan, Gansu Province, China, for 4 days in 2014 as part of his Youth Friendship project, with the intention to encourage the local farmers to grow hemp, the remarkable plant grown to build carbon-negative houses.  

He says: 

“I was inspired after watching an episode of the British TV show Grand Designs that explained the benefits of using hemp as an alternative ‘green’ building product compared to traditional wood, brick or cement construction, I thought about the possibility of growing the plant on an industrial scale in Shandan.

“The reason I thought of Shandan is that I actually saw the plant growing in the wild around that area during the time I lived there for 6 months as a part of my PhD research in 2012. 

“The area of Shandan is also rich in lime, the other important component that is added to the hemp, acting as a binder when mixed with water. Shandan also has kilns to process the lime.   To me, it made sense to grow hemp in the area, combine the processed hemp stalks with the lime, and then ship the lightweight cement alternative off to New Zealand.  Sounded like a perfect plan.  I found a designer/ builder in New Zealand who was already importing hemp for construction projects in New Plymouth so I was expecting to sit back, watch the grass grow and the money pile up!

Closeup of hemp stems

“The growing trial actually went really well.  The hemp grew very healthy and strong showing good signs of promise in the region with an estimated yield of about 1 tonne per hectare, despite needing very little water or maintenance from the local farmers.  I was ready to start building a multinational conglomerate based in Shandan. Then disaster struck!

“The problem came about trying to move it internationally (or even domestically).  As a close relation to the variety of cannabis that is currently deemed to be an illegal drug in most parts of the world, including China, the raw hemp needs to be tested for THC content before it can be exported.  China currently exports large volumes of hemp to countries such as Japan and Korea.  However, after the hemp was grown and was being prepared for processing into a building material, I was told by local authorities in Shandan that the only place that I could do the testing was in Canada.  However…., for me to send it to Canada, it needs to be tested and get certification for THC content before it could be shipped!!  Illogical bureaucracy wins again!  

“The hemp that was intended for the hemp builder in New Zealand ended up being imported from the Netherlands. You can see the recently completed project as it was also featured on the New Zealand version of Grand Designs.  

“I would still like to experiment with hemp-growing trials in Shandan in the future.  This time not for export, but for use locally.  It would be great to build a demonstration structure using the locally-produced materials to convince the local authorities of its merits and persuade them to do more to allow for the testing and shipment of the plant material from their region.

“So, if anyone has any ideas or good contacts in the Chinese bureaucracy so we can get the ball rolling, just let me know:  Parley.Reynolds@nzte.govt.nz