Kenya, the world’s third-largest sisal producer, is giving small-scale farmers equipment and training to boost output and meet demand for the fiber from construction industries in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Eight estates in Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, grow more than 80 percent of the country’s output, which was 26,050 metric tons last year, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority, a state corporation. The Agriculture Ministry is seeking to encourage sisal-growing, especially in more arid parts of Kenya such as Kibwezi, part of Makueni county, in the southeast, Johnson Irungu, the ministry’s crops director, said in an interview.
“Sisal is a very hardy plant, especially resistant to drought, so in a climate-change scenario its value is likely to increase,” Christopher Emsden, an official with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said in an e- mailed response to questions. “Historically sisal has been an estate or plantation-based crop in East Africa. FAO is especially interested in smallholder producers, and this typology has been growing.”
A component in rope and twine, sisal is also used in textiles and dartboards. Kenya earned 3.6 billion shillings ($35.4 million) from exporting 21,464 tons of the fiber in 2015, 800 million shillings more than from shipments of 26,340 tons in 2014 — a sign of rising prices, according to AFFA. Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, where sisal is used in construction, and China, which uses it for textiles, are the biggest importers of Kenya’s crop, the state corporation’s figures show.
Brazil, the world’s largest grower of sisal, had output of 150,584 tons in 2013, the last year for which FAO’s website gives figures. Tanzania produced 34,875 tons while Madagascar’s output was 18,950 tons, data shows. China’s 16,500 tons placed it fifth.
REA Vipingo Plantations Ltd., based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, produces about 12,000 tons of sisal per year from two estates near the port city of Mombasa and in Kibwezi, according to its website.