Redouan Adam Anaia - MSc Plant Breeding and MSc Science, Management & Innovation. Anaia works in the field of chemical ecology. It uses chemical-analytical and molecular techniques to study the interactions of plants with other organisms. Anaia is extremely interested in chemo-diversity within plant species and families and is currently mainly concerned with glycoalkaloids. These are substances that plants of the nightshade family (this includes potatoes, aubergines and tomatoes, for example) produce to protect themselves against insects, among other things. In addition to researching nightshades, Anaia has also researched the famous plant for his education and work cannabis sativa, the species to which fiber hemp also belongs. Anaia talks passionately about this plant and we can say that the magic of the plant fascinates him endlessly. He is an early adopter of hemp textile products himself and has already purchased several jackets made of hemp fibres.

Anaia is now living in Leipzig, Germany, for his doctoral research in chemical ecology. Before that, he worked for HempFlax, among others, and successfully completed a master's degree in Molecular Life Sciences at Radboud University and a master's degree in Plant Sciences at Wageningen University. We consider Anaia a true connoisseur and he is one of our faithful advisors when it comes to the scientific knowledge of hemp as a raw material.  

Growth properties of the hemp plant

Many people who work with hemp are very enthusiastic about growing hemp because it has so many positive properties compared to other plants. We asked Anaia what hemp needs to grow and why people love the properties of hemp: 

“I think I can generalize there, because hemp is a plant and plants need water, sunlight, the right temperature and sufficient nutrients in the soil to grow, oh yes and oxygen, they produce oxygen but they also need it themselves. . But what also makes hemp interesting is that hemp doesn't use a lot of water, it does need water to grow again. But compared to other crops, for example other textile crops (cotton is the most well-known textile crop), hemp consumes less water. This is mainly due to how the roots of hemp are constructed. The taproot goes as deep as possible into the soil and forms lateral roots that branch into a solid root network, which also keeps the soil well aerated and enriched with oxygen: this allows the plant to grow efficiently. Hemp has, as we say, a good water use efficiency (Water use efficiency refers to the ratio of water used in plant metabolism and converted into biomass to water lost by the plant through transpiration). As a result, hemp does not need much water compared to other raw materials.


In addition, the plant grows very quickly, hemp can grow from seed to harvest in months under the right conditions. It is therefore a plant that can form biomass very quickly and therefore also absorbs a lot of C02 from the atmosphere. So that's also something plants need to grow, carbon dioxide, which is now associated with climate change because it's a greenhouse gas, but let's be clear the C02 we exhale plants use to make sugars and actually as a by-product, plants make oxygen, which we inhale. So I think that's a very nice aspect of the relationship between plants and humans. Okay but what else does hemp need? Well, it's not that hemp grows equally well everywhere. It is not that you can call a certain type of hemp, also called a variety, that comes from Thailand, that you can also grow it in Groningen. So it is a matter of looking at the right conditions for a specific variety of hemp.”


The influence of breeding within the hemp value chain. 

The aspect that Anaia herself has been most concerned with is the knowledge of breeding the plant. Plant breeding is the development of plants that meet human requirements as best as possible. A breeder selects plants with the best hereditary properties and uses them to create new varieties (also known as 'varieties'). Can you tell us why breeding is such an interesting and important aspect?

“Well, the hemp plant is extremely versatile, hemp offers a lot of possibilities. For example, products are made from the leaves, ranging from oils to ointments to other medicinal products, we know the textile applications from HMPLB and the fibers are also used to make ropes and sails. Building materials and insulation materials are made from the bark of the plant and then you have the recreational products that the plants can produce. This is all possible based on this plant species. You have the plant that produces weed, that is a variety that has been specifically developed to generate a relatively high value of THC, so another plant is grown again, for example the fiber hemp developed, to obtain good long usable fibers. The fiber hemp, on the other hand, contains less than 0.2 percent THC  and is therefore not suitable for producing THC-containing weed. So many more varieties of the plant are possible. You can actually see it just like the world with different races, in principle we are all people, but geographically and due to different circumstances different types and species have been developed, which develop specific characteristics. A stereotypical example of the result of domestication and breeding are the cultivated varieties of the wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea), which most of us know as cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, white cabbage, kohlrabi, etc. These different vegetables are therefore all cultivated varieties of the wild cabbage, which still occurs in nature today. We have bred this plant over the years to obtain a number of different vegetables that we now consume, which are basically all part of the same plant species.”

“So you can actually see it with the cannabis sativa plant. The interesting thing is that sativa comes from Latin and means something like 'the cultivated'. It is therefore one of the very first plants that we domesticated, which means growing ourselves (as well as selecting to develop varieties) so that we could use it for different needs. A lot is possible with this plant, which makes it a really special plant. Breeding the plant ensures that we can develop the different varieties, in order to develop specific properties of plants, so that they can grow better, but can also be made for specific natural materials. Breeding the plant therefore also plays an essential role in setting up an effective value chain for hemp products, so if you want well-suited fibers you will actually have to breed the plant to develop fibers that can be easily processed by the various partners within a value chain."