Mr. Francois Desanlis

Francois Desanlis is vice-chairman of the board of directors at La Chanvrière de l'Aube (LCDA) a French hemp cooperative and research institute. This e-mail interview was conducted by Hayo van der Werf from Rennes, France during July of 1999.

What is La Chanvrière de l'Aube?

        La Chanvrière de l'Aube was created in 1973 by hemp growers of the southern part of the Champagne region (in northeastern France). These farmers grew hemp for a paper pulp factory belonging to the Bollorè company. This factory had to close down because it did not meet environmental pollution regulations. The legal structure of the Chanvrière is an agricultural cooperative, it employs 60 people and 400 hemp growers are members.

What is your function within LCDA and how did your career develop?

        I have been growing hemp since 1984, have represented the hemp growers on the board of directors since 1986, and have been vice-chairman since 1997. In 1993, the board of directors proposed that I consider hempseed and its applications. My first mission was to define quality criteria for the seed. Thus we defined the various parameters that had to be respected for the harvest and the stocking of hempseed. Next we had to define working methods for the extraction of the oil. At present, I coordinate the various subjects of fundamental and applied research.

What are current research topics in your institute and how is research funded?

        Presently our research covers four themes:
1- Non-woven fibres, as such or in association with polymer matrices.
2- Woven fibres.
3- Hurds in association with binding agents based on lime to form light concrete.
4- Hempseed and the products derived from it.

Do you collaborate with other re-search institutes? If so, which?

        Our research is carried out in collaboration with specialists in the various topics. Thus, we have research programs with institutes and universities in France, Germany and Austria. We also participate in several European and French cooperative programs.
        In addition to fundamental research themes, which have for their objective, a better knowledge of the constitution and behaviour of hemp, we carry out applied research focused on new technologies and new applications. The development of the light concrete based on hurds is an example of this work, which was realised in collaboration with the National School of Public Works at Lyon.
        We have started to think about composite materials consisting of polymers and hemp fibres. This work is carried out with Apollor, a research structure located at Nancy.
        With respect to hempseed, we work in close collaboration with the Institute of Fatty Substances at Bordeaux and the University of Wuppertal (Germany).

How is the relationship of LCDA with the Federation Nationale des Producteurs de Chanvre (FNPC)?

        At present, our relationship with the FNPC is excellent, our co-ordination with respect to subjects concerning regulations is very constructive. The establishment of an interprofessional structure will allow us to improve the dialogue between industry, producers and government services.

What is the situation of hemp growing and processing in France, and what are your perspectives?

        Currently, hemp production in France is being carried out within good market conditions. The traditional markets such as paper and animal bedding are stable in volume. However, we should be vigilant and satisfy the demand for improvement of product quality in order to keep our respective market shares. A production increase might be considered as new outlets become successful. Our image of a non-polluting and natural product gives us good hope for the future.

What is the current level of EU subsidy for hemp and how do you think EU policy with respect to hemp will develop?

        The level of production subsidy has decreased by 25% over the last three years. We should expect a further decrease of the subsidy as hemp cropping areas increase. The crop is becoming more commonplace and it is very probable that it will be treated in the same way as other types of agricultural production. Our development policy should take that fact into account. Our growers will grow hemp only as far as it will be profitable. It is up to us to make the necessary efforts to improve our industrial productivity and find the most remunerative markets to compensate for any decrease of agricultural subsidies.

What hemp-based raw materials does LCDA produce today and in what quantities?

        Our growers supply us with approximately 40,000 tons of hemp straw and 5,500 tons of hempseed, grown on a total of about 6000 hectares. We produce about 12,000 tons of fibre, 23,000 tons of hurds and 5,000 tons of fine particles.

Which product-group (paper, textile, building materials, composites, geotextiles, animal bedding) has most promise for the future?

        We hope to maintain our traditional markets. Nevertheless, the largest and most promising future markets concern non-woven products. We are quite hopeful with respect to building materials. Fibres in association with polymer matrices also seem equally of interest.

How do you see the future of hemp building materials?

        Hemp building materials are reaching technological maturity. We have started commercial development and are structuring our distribution network.

Are hemp-based building materials more expensive than current materials having the same functions? If so, how much more expensive?

        The use of hemp building materials should be part of a coherent reasoning. If the architect applies such a reasoning in his study, the cost will not be very different from that of current cement-based materials. On the other hand, its use yields results that are actually much better.

When will LCDA start producing textiles for clothing?

        The production of hemp yarn from monoecious cultivars is not easy. We are carrying out research using dioecious cultivars and innovating technologies. We will still have to work for several years before obtaining an industrial result.

Does LCDA produce any certified organic hemp?

        We have started to produce certified organic hemp.

What are the major obstacles to further expansion of hemp in France?

        Hemp will expand in France only when the new markets will be ready to absorb a larger amount of hemp. We have the capacity to increase this production when necessary.

Is there anything else you might want to add to any of the previous questions?

        Today we are open to consider various alliances and lines of collaboration. The hemp world is tiny relative to the giants of cotton and flax. We should understand this situation and unite rather than be divided, since we are too small and too few to approach huge markets such as the car industry, for example. At present, we all think we are each in the possession of the truth individually. However, we will discover that it is better to find our strength in synergy.

        La Chanvrière de l'Aube (F-10200 BAR SUR AUBE, E-mail: "chanvriere.aube@wanadoo.fr", Fax: 33 (0)3 25 27 35 48.