The federal cabinet has approved the production of industrial hemp by the government in a decision that could result in a $1 billion market for Pakistan in the future, Minister For Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said on Wednesday.
The minister had first announced the decision on Tuesday on Twitter, saying the cabinet had approved the first license for the science and technology ministry and the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) for industrial and medical use of hemp. He said the "landmark decision" would place Pakistan in the international cannabidiol (CBD) market worth billions of dollars.
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Chaudhry said some people were misinterpreting the cabinet decision as allowing the cultivation of a poppy-like crop in Pakistan which could be used to make addictive drugs.
He clarified that the industrial hemp plant contains a compound called cannabidiol, which can "play a very important role" in medical therapies meant to mitigate severe and chronic pain. He noted that several countries including China and Canada were cultivating hemp on tens of thousands of acres.
Related: High time
The plant's seed is used to make hemp oil, the leaf is used in medicines, while the stem is used to make fibre that could one day replace cotton in the textile industry, according to the minister.
Chaudhry made it clear that the plant's production was approved to be carried out only under government control for now, so that further research and safeguards of the production could be developed.
"We want the hemp market to generate $1 billion [in revenues] for Pakistan in the next three years," he said, revealing that the places chosen for production in the first phase included sites in Peshawar, Chakwal and Jhelum.
The minister said the government was also working on introducing a new project on precision agriculture under which high-technology farms would be developed. The project will focus on non-traditional agriculture including the production of exotic vegetables such as avocadoes, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, etc.
Dr Iqbal Chaudhry, director of the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) based at the University of Karachi, said his research institute was chosen by the government to work on the project because it has all the equipment and expertise required for certification and validation of hemp products.
He said Pakistan will be able to easily export a number of value-added products using ICCBS's research facilities.
Dr Hussain Abidi, member science and technology of the Planning Commission, termed the cabinet decision a "very advantageous" step. He said besides hemp's health and medicinal uses, the fibre residue of the plant can be used to produce bio-energy as well.
'Revolutionary' electric bus project
At the start of his presser, Chaudhry said the science ministry had achieved several of its objectives set last year and the government was able to bring a policy to introduce electric buses and two- and three-wheelers in the country.
He said the government aimed at making Islamabad the first city in Pakistan where public transport could be fully converted to electric vehicles.
The minister announced that the government had signed the agreement for an electric bus project with two companies that he said will bring a "revolution" in the country's public transport infrastructure.
The project will start with an initial investment of $50 million and 120 buses will be imported this year, Chaudhry said, adding that from next year the buses will be assembled in Pakistan and their manufacturing will begin in the country within three years.
The minister said it was also important to introduce vehicles such as electric three-wheelers that catered to female students so that their daily travel could be made easier.
Talking about the changing trends in the power sector, Chaudhry said the "best scenario" for Pakistan in the next 10 years would be that it produced electricity from renewable sources and also manufactured batteries in which it could be stored.