Despite the notoriety of the hemp, officials in southwest China’s Yunnan Province are promoting farming of the plant without a narcotic component for industrial use to increase the income of local residents.

A hemp fiber processing factory with an annual capacity of 2,000 tonnes started production Tuesday in Menghai County in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, a mountainous region in Yunnan.

“The fiber from hemp is widely used to make socks and bulletproof clothes as well as top-grade suits,” said Shi Dongming, board chairman of China Hemp Industrial Holding Investment Co., Ltd., which runs the production line.

Local officials expect the plant to help raise the living standard of farmers. The government provides the seeds for free to encourage cultivation. Farmers can also get technical training and instructions.

“Nearly 10,000 farmers are growing the plant, which can double their per capita income from less than 2,000 yuan (293 U.S. dollars) to about 4,000 yuan every year,” said Jiang Pusheng, Communist Party chief of the prefecture.

Yang Yonghong from Manlu village plans to plant more hemp next year. “The planting does not demand too much work. Companies will come to collect the hemp in the harvest time, so we are not worried about the sales, “she said.

Local officials said the growth would not lead to the production of illegal drugs, although Xishuangbanna is near the Golden Triangle region where drugs are produced and smuggled.

The hemp contains less than 0.1 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the key ingredient in marijuana, while the cannabis grown for marijuana can contain up to five percent of THC or even more, said Zhang Jianchun, a researcher with the General Logistics Department of the People’s Liberation Army.

He has been working on the development and cultivation of the hemp since 2003.

“The cost of making marijuana from our hemp is much higher than the price of the drugs,” Zhang said, “So we don’t think drug producers will eye the farms here.”

“As the hemp grows fast and can spread widely, we are paying close attention to prevent the species damaging the ecosystem in the rain forest.”

By 2020, China will build cultivation bases in the autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia as well as Yunnan, Heilongjiang, Gansu and Anhui provinces, Zhang said.

The farms are expected to cover more than 660,000 hectares and help lift about three million people out of poverty, he said.