What is Sisal? (Agave sisalana)

Sisal
A coarse and strong fibre, sisal is being increasingly used in composite materials for cars, furniture and construction as well as in plastics and paper products. Sisal fibres are obtained from Agave Sisalana, a native of Mexico. The hardy plant grows well all year round in hot climate and arid regions which are often unsuitable for other crops. Sisal can be cultivated in most soil types except clay and has low tolerance to very moist and saline soil conditions.  Husbandry is relatively simple as it is resilient to disease and its input requirement is low compared to other crops. Sisal can be harvested from 2 years after planting and its productive life can reach up to 12 years, producing from 180 to 240 leaves depending on location, altitude, level of rainfall and variety of plant.  


The Fibre’s
Although the leaves contain about 90 percent moisture, they are rigid and the fleshy pulp is very firm. The fibres which lie embedded longitudinally in the leaves, being most abundant near the leaf surfaces, must be removed from the leaves as soon as they are cut in order to avoid the risk of damage during the cleaning process. Fibre removal is accomplished by scraping away the pulpy material, generally by a mechanical decortication process, and by hand stripping. Sisal is produced with minimum pre and post harvest losses and average yield of dried fibres is about 1 tonne per hectare, although yields in East Africa can reach 4 tonnes per hectare.   


Environmental benefits 
Sisal is a renewable resource par excellence and can form part of the overall solution to climate change. Measured over its life-cycle, sisal absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces. During processing, it generates mainly organic wastes and leaf residues that can be used to generate bioenergy, produce animal feed, fertiliser and ecological housing material and, at the end of its life cycle, sisal is 100 percent biodegradable. By contrast synthetically produced fibres do not possess any of these traits. Moreover sisal plants reduce soil erosion through its extensive root system and contributes positively to watershed management. Sisal plants used as hedges act as effective vegetative barriers/ fences to protect the crops lands and forests from predatory animals and intruders. 


Environmental benefits
Sisal is a renewable resource par excellence and can form part of the overall solution to climate change. Measured over its life-cycle, sisal absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces. During processing, it generates mainly organic wastes and leaf residues that can be used to generate bioenergy, produce animal feed, fertiliser and ecological housing materialand, at the end of its life cycle, sisal is 100 percent biodegradable. By contrast synthetically produced fibres do not possess any of these traits. Moreover sisal plants reduce soil erosion through its extensive root system and contributes positively to watershed management. Sisal plants used as hedges act as effective vegetative barriers/ fences to protect the crops lands and forests from predatory animals and intruders. 

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