Sisal is set for a revival after years in decline. Victim of synthetic polypropylene yarn when oil was cheap, sisal fiber could not compete on price. Now the tide appears to have turned.
Demand for sisal twine in Europe is up as the cost-gap with polyproplylene narrows; the market for sisal grain sacks in Africa has been increasing; paper manufacture from sisal fiber as a substitute for wood pulp is being developed in Japan; and the US is using increasing quantities of geo-textile – fine netting woven from sisal and used to stabilize exposed soil at construction sites.
The burgeoning "green" movement is undoubtedly helping as customers turn away from synthe-tics toward natural materials, look for alternatives to forest-derived paper, and recognize the need to fight erosion.
In Tanzania, where sisal was once the prince of exports, the government is attracting young people to the aging and depleted workforce of this physically demanding rural industry by offering modern housing with amenities usually associated with urban employment.
The rehabilitated sisal industry in Tanzania is expected to benefit from increased "down-stream" processing of fiber as more plantation facilities invest in spinning factories to convert sisal into yarn and other value-added products before export.
Excerpted from a report by Michael Pickstock to International Agricultural Development, 19, Woodford Close, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, UK. RG4 7HN.