Hemp in Africa: the startup concept for low carbon farming
BizAge spoke to founder and CEO Peter Miles to hear how African farmers can be helped by his ingenious concept of hemp growing SmartBoxes.
Hi Peter! What is eHempHouse?
We’re on a mission to help reverse the ravages of climate change by providing farmers with the technology to profitably cultivate carbon-neutral hemp crops.
Hemp is a wonder crop that offers a wealth of benefits. Due to its fast growth, hemp sequesters, or stores, more carbon out of the atmosphere while it grows than any other crop. Hemp has more impact on removing CO2 than any other crop and growing it removes 66 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year.
We’re aiming to contribute to a significant reduction in atmospheric C02 by providing farmers with our Smart Box system: low cost, portable hemp processing units to convert carbon-negative hemp crops into valuable green products.
We’re providing the Smart Box system free to African farmers so that they can successfully process organic hemp, which removes CO2 from the atmosphere and provides farmers with a sustainable income. The units will also enable farmers to produce components for a range of other products from the residual hemp biomass.
We’re funding the provision of our first SmartBoxes to farmers in Africa by selling the carbon credits from the carbon neutral hemp crops on the carbon markets. This will help to support worldwide carbon offsetting initiatives.
Talk us through the design
The SmartBox is designed to be transportable to farmers’ fields, so it’s a compact unit that is approximately the size of a shipping container.
They are designed to be used off-grid and can use the hemp oil from the crop as bio-diesel to power them. Each SmartBox has a power output of approximately 100 kw AC and will have 2Kw of 48 V DC. They will also supply other power needs of remote villages in the local area.
How will it help communities in Africa?
There are 200m hectares of underutilised land in Africa, which equates to 50% of the global total. Our Smart Box system enables farmers to use their land to profitably cultivate hemp, a crop that absorbs more CO2 than any other and even more than trees and has thousands of sustainable applications.
As hemp is a fast-growing crop, its cultivation provides farmers with a good sustainable livelihood.
Why is hemp so suitable as a crop?
Hemp is known as a wonder crop for good reason. Hemp absorbs more CO2 than trees and is much faster growing. It is possible to harvest three times a year and if you do that, you’re absorbing around 66 tonnes of CO2 per hectare.
Hemp crops also support regenerative farming, which in turn improves the soil for future crops. Hemp also cleans toxic soil; for example, it’s the only crop grown around Chernobyl.
What else can it be used for?
There are over 15,000 uses for hemp and new applications are being discovered all the time. For example, scientists have found that hemp provides a product that is much better and more efficient than graphene for use in batteries.
Its typical uses include animal feed, fabric, rope, hemp oil and human food, such as hemp seeds. Another application is Hempcrete, which is an environmentally friendly alternative to concrete.
All the products derived from hemp are sustainable, decarbonised, and environmentally friendly, unlike the products they replace.
What happens to the waste from the eHempHouse?
The beauty of hemp cultivation is that the whole plant can be used to produce items. Some of the initial basic products produced using the Smartboxes won’t utilise the whole plant, but in phase two we will build hemp-based industries that form the basis of the Green Industrial Revolution.
How is the pilot going?
We’ve been running training courses for local communities in Zambia and the local farmers are very enthusiastic about the product and its potential for improving the profitability of their land.
We are also running tests in North America on Hemp fuel and biochar products produced from the ‘waste’ that CBD farmers are left with after processing their crops for the CBD oils.
How did you come up with the idea?
It is the brainchild of our co-founder Andy Neal. The idea came about to make it easy for African farmers to grow hemp as a profitable crop, even if they’re off-grid, and as a viable solution to address climate change and ongoing environmental destruction. We see eHempHouse as part of the new green industrial revolution that we desperately need to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and improve sustainable farming.
Our Smart Box system is patented.
Tell us about your team
The key members of the team are the three co-founders. Andy Neal is the CTO based in the USA and heads up research and development. Andy is an entrepreneur, inventor and an engineer with a background in green technology and product development.
Steven Putter, our COO, is based in Zambia. Steven has extensive experience in innovative agricultural projects in Africa and entrepreneurial ventures.
My role is head of carbon sequestration and marketing and sales, where I bring my experience in building businesses from start up through to exit.
What's the business model?
We provide the Smartboxes to African farmers to enable them to establish an economic future through the cultivation of hemp. Our revenues are generated through a distribution margin on the farm gate product prices that are paid to the farmers. In addition, we sell the carbon credits on the carbon markets that recoup the capital expenditure on the Smartboxes.
Prices of the Carbon Credits are forecast to increase over the coming years. Currently, the price is around $20 per ton and set to be above $75 by the end of the decade. The Smartbox costs us $250k to produce and one Smartbox can manage 450 hectares of hemp harvest. We assume farmers will cultivate 3 harvests per year as it’s such a fast-growing crop.
What sort of investment have you got? Is it enough?
We’re seeking to secure £1.5m in funding by spring 2022. This is sufficient for us to move the business forward to the next milestones.
What's the five-year plan for eHempHouse?
We are forecast to be selling over 5m tons of carbon credits in five years with more than 500 Smartboxes operating across Africa. Africa is a region where we can make an immediate positive impact on the lives of people who are already living with the impact of climate change in their daily lives.