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Graça Castanho: “It is necessary to return the plant to people, it is a human right”



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Graça Castanho, university professor and businesswoman, is the main organizer of the I International Hemp Congress, which takes place on the 3rd of October at Associação Agrícola dos Açores, in Ribeira Grande, São Miguel Island. Cannareporter spoke with the organizer of the event, to better understand why this Congress is being held and why it is “urgent to put Portugal on the map of industrial hemp production”.

Former Councilor for the Teaching of Portuguese in the USA and Bermuda and former Regional Director of Communities in the Regional Government of the Azores Graça is currently a professor at the University of the Azores. Holder of several academic degrees, namely two post-docs (one at Harvard University with a study in Mozambique on Teaching Literacy and the other at Lesley University on the teaching of Portuguese as a global language), Graça Castanho realized the enormous potential of hemp in sustainability and decided to invest in this culture, investing in the company Neuron Bonus, which will sell hemp-based products. But beyond that, she also considers it necessary to invest in the debate and in the dissemination of more information about this culture in the Azores, which is why she is organizing this congress.

How did the idea of ​​holding this congress come about and what are its main objectives?
Given the potential in the sector of production, processing and commercialization of industrial hemp in the Azores, it became clear that the population in general and professionals in the areas of health, education, agriculture, civil construction, etc. have little information about this emerging economic area around the world. Because it is a plant with numerous uses and being an alternative to traditional agricultural practices, with benefits for human beings and for the sustainability of the planet, we rolled up our sleeves and developed this project in the Azores, in partnership with national and foreign experts.

How is the hemp situation in the Azores and what work have you been developing in this area?
Despite the growing demand for new business opportunities in this area by locals, nationals and foreigners, the truth is that there is no industrial hemp production in the Azores, due to the lack of a more consolidated response from the governments and lack of information about the specificities of the cultivation of this plant. Professor João Madruga, from the University of the Azores, will participate in the congress, who will speak about this new line of research in the islands, as well as national producers and scientists from Canada and the USA, who will explore the scientific issues behind hemp and cannabis.

What main topics will be debated and which speakers will be highlighted at this event?
The range is vast, both in terms of topics and speakers. It was our intention to provide a training moment of high interest and relevance for farmers, health professionals, educators and policy makers on the different aspects of production, processing and commercialization of industrial hemp, so we will talk about its use at the level of welfare. people's well-being and quality of life, in food, cosmetics, construction, textiles, substitute products for plastics and synthetic fibers, treatment of pain and addictions, among others.

How do you see the situation of hemp in the world, in Europe and in Portugal?
Great strides have been made on the hemp production chain in the world, based on scientific evidence. However, the application of this knowledge has been unevenly applied, at different rates around the world, reaching the point that a large part of the population fears the use of this plant, as it is believed to be part of the list of illicit or psychotropic substances. Our Congress aims precisely to inform and educate about the potential of this plant for health and production practices that are more ecological and in line with the environmental requirements of our times.

What have been the main obstacles to this culture in our country?
Misinformation and pressure from the pharmaceutical sector, which does everything to steal access to a natural plant, whose existence on the planet has always accompanied the evolution of humanity, with countless benefits for pain, anxiety, insomnia, depression, Autism, Alzheimer's, cancer, etc. It is necessary to return the plant to the people, it is a human right.

How has your relationship with entities at this level been?
When entering this field of activity, we realize that the quality of the relationship depends on the training and knowledge of the interlocutor. From the local authority and the regional government there is an opening for this line of business. However, when dealing with law enforcement agencies and national bodies that authorize production and marketing, there are numerous inconsistencies and violations of guidelines coming from the European Union and from the scientists themselves.

What is your opinion on the apprehensions that there have been in the hemp sector and the difficulties in obtaining authorizations for cultivation?
It is unacceptable that for the same practice and production area we are faced with completely different readings, procedures and laws from country to country. It is serious, in terms of the rule of law, when the same situation is a crime in one geographical area and fully legalized in another part of the world. Today, with the corpus scientific evidence available on hemp and its essential extracts, this diversity of harsher and more extreme interventions with a natural plant, which does not pose any dangers to human beings, makes no sense.

What are the most promising uses of hemp nationally and internationally?
All areas are booming and with an unimaginable potential for the future, at a time when the well-being of the world's populations is threatened and the environment is at a crossroads, in search of more ecological and respectful alternative paths for planet Earth.

What does Portugal have to gain by investing in this culture?
It is urgent to put Portugal on the map of industrial hemp production, rescuing ancestral practices in our country, diversifying the business and productive fabric and ensuring greater distribution of wealth and greater government control.

What are the biggest challenges to develop this sector?
More training with policy makers, more historical and scientific knowledge in schools and universities about the benefits of Industrial hemp and cannabis in general, both from a recreational and medicinal perspective.

What advice would you give to governments and also to farmers who want to invest in hemp?
Don't waste time inventing the wheel and don't want to go against the current. An equal application of European regulations will be an assertive and social justice measure for the populations of the different member states.

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