Sisal farming [Sisal, SISO scheme, Best practices]

The sisal industry is the oldest commercially organised agricultural undertaking and one of the longest surviving agricultural industries in Tanzania. Introduced in 1893 by Dr. Richard Hindorf a German Agronomist, as a commercial crop, the sisal industry grew to become the most extensive commercial agriculture and primary processing in Central Africa, spreading to Kenya, Mozambique and Angola. Peak production was reached in 1964 when Tanzania alone produced 234,000 tons grown in Tanga, Morogoro, Coast, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Singida, Iringa, Mwanza, Shinyanga, Mara, Mtwara and Lindi regions, virtually throughout Tanzania.

Sisal has played a significant role in the country's economy being the largest foreign exchange earner in Tanzania up to the 70's and the largest employer providing employment to over 1,000,000 permanent and casual workers. It is expected to continue as it still provides a well being for a very large number of people in the country. This is due to the characteristics of the sisal plant itself. The importance of the crop for the country's economic growth, rural development and provision of employment opportunities, now and in future, cannot be taken lightly as the crop is drought resistant and very tolerant to a variety of soils, hence it can enable even arid areas to be brought into productivity that would not be possible for other crops. Sisal is the only crop where Tanzania was the largest producer in the world, producing the best quality.

Presently, even in a depressed state, the sisal industry is employing over 100,000 people and is the fourth largest agricultural exporter. The predominant mode of production is still estate based even in the smallholder and out grower schemes that have been established.

During the 1960s and 1970s there was serious development of secondary fibre processing factories producing sisal twines, yarns, ropes, bags, carpets, pulp and paper. Sisal was and is still also being used in the construction and manufacturing industry for padding, in mattresses and handcrafts (see sisal products). A good percentage of this capacity is still available but under utilised due to low fibre production and unfavorable policies in local production. Also, in efforts to add value to the raw sisal fibre as only the 2% of the sisal plant is utilised to produce fibre the remaining 98% biomass that is thrown away as "waste" at cost both financially and to the environment is now known to contain serious economic value and is being seriously exploited. (see sisal energy)

Katani Ltd was formed during the transformation of the economy in Tanzania to a free market seeing new opportunities cropping up after years of product and market research. Since then the industry has started reviving itself as an emerging market and production had increased to 35,000 tons by 2010 showing an increasing upward trend in production by 54% from 1997 which is continuing to gather momentum.

Since before the privatisation of the Sisal industry under the former Tanzania Sisal Authority (TSA) there has been extensive research into sisal that has been carried on by Katani Ltd which has concluded significant attributes of the sisal plant. There are ten attractive characteristics of sisal that do not occur in any other industry in Tanzania namely;

The naturally safe and environmentally friendliness use of sisal for making products and more so as a renewable energy resource in rural and town areas.

The extensive Market Research into new fibre-based products that has market potential running into millions of tons worldwide. This in addition to traditional products which are still extensively demanded. And as sisal can be grown and processed in every region of Tanzania, with serious investment, an increase in production even 40 times can be reached in 15 years.

The 98% biomass, so called "waste" hitherto thrown away, is now known to be more valuable than the 2% if fully exploited. This opens up further market opportunities for sisal to produce energy, medicinal, composite and value added products such as pulp for paper, which will be very competitive.

The toughness of the sisal plant. It thrives well in drought conditions or heavy rain. In more than 100 years of commercial production in Tanzania, there has not been a single drought that has killed sisal. Drought is the worst enemy of rain-fed agriculture, but sisal can be grown virtually in all regions of Tanzania.

The ability of sisal to survive under harsh conditions in marginal land and even fire providing protection against soil erosion and it can be inter-cropped with food and cash crops like maize, cotton, legumes and sunflower.

Planting or harvesting of sisal can be done at any time of the year. The mature plant can be left for more than 12 months without affecting the plant or quality of harvest. Sisal fibre can be stored for over five years without affecting its quality. It has no post harvest losses.

All established sisal estates have established infrastructures and civic facilities. They are natural farm centres, which can offer other services like banking, insurance, pension and telecommunications to the rural areas.

The abundance of managerial, skilled and semi-skilled workers with qualifications and experience in the sisal industry built over a period of more than 100 years of commercial production.

Tanzania boasts to have the only sisal Research Centre in the world at Mlingano, Tanga now equipped with an ultra-modern Meristematic

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