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Focus on... Natural fibres

As early as 2800 BC, Chinese farmers were cultivating hemp for making cloth, one of the oldest recorded uses of plant fibre for fabric production. And, until relatively recently, production of clothes, cloths, carpets, cordage, paper and ships' sails, was entirely based on natural fibres. With the development of synthetic fibres derived from petroleum, the use of natural fibres began to decline. However, rising oil prices and concerns over the environmental cost of synthetic fibre production have created a renewed interest in crop and animal fibres.

Worldwide, some 30 million tonnes of natural fibres are produced annually. For many developing countries natural fibres are of major economic importance, including cotton in parts of West Africa, jute in Bangladesh and sisal in Tanzania. But across the developing world, producers and processors of natural fibres face the challenge of developing and maintaining markets in which they can compete effectively with synthetics. As 2009 marks the International Year of Natural Fibres, we look at some of the challenges being faced by small-scale producers and processors and the new technologies, markets and policies being developed to support them.

Building capacity for change in Peru's alpaca sector

Building capacity for change in Peru's alpaca sector

In Peru, a new national camelid strategy provides a vision for development of the sector across the region, which has been threatened by declining fibre quality.

Date published: May 2009

Coir - a fibre for the future?

Coir - a fibre for the future?

In order to take maximum advantage of the global demand for coir fibre, the entire value chain in Sri Lanka has united under the Coir Council International. Through cooperation they are working to improve the competitiveness of the industry and enhance the livelihoods of everyone involved.

Date published: May 2009

Kyrgyzstan - cashing in on cashmere

Kyrgyzstan - cashing in on cashmere

Chinese buyers of cashmere provide no incentive to Kyrgyz farmers to add value by sorting the fibre. However, training and information on international markets is helping farmers to attract higher prices paid by European companies in search of the finest quality.

Date published: May 2009

Sustainable sisal in Tanzania

Sustainable sisal in Tanzania

A boom in the global demand for sisal fibre has revitalised the industry in Tanzania. While smallholders are benefitting from planting the drought-resistant crop alongside their maize and beans, one sisal processing company has developed some innovative uses for the sisal biomass.

Date published: May 2009

Three bags full - the black sheep of Deccan

Three bags full - the black sheep of Deccan

Well-adapted to life on the semi-arid Deccan Plateau, Deccani sheep provide meat, manure and thick black wool. While attempts to produce softer and finer wool by crossbreeding have proved unsuccessful, focusing on traditional skills of local weavers has created a "recession-proof" market.

Date published: May 2009

Awash with cotton

Awash with cotton

After losing 90 per cent of their livestock to drought, the Mahesara clan of Ethiopia's Afar region began growing cotton for export. In 2008 they exported over 100 tonnes of cotton to Europe. Profits have been reinvested in the community, to provide education and healthcare for clan members.

Date published: May 2009

Going wild for silk in Zimbabwe

Going wild for silk in Zimbabwe

Communities in southern Zimbabwe have traditionally collected wild silk cocoons to prevent livestock ingesting them. However, after the value of cocoons was revealed, rural communities have been using this natural resource to produce wild silk.

Date published: May 2009

 

 

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