Sisal farming in Kenya has been a significant source of income generation and employment creation for many years. The country is one of the leading producers of sisal in the world, and the crop has been a vital part of the country’s economy for decades. However, in recent years, the production and yield of sisal have been declining, and the industry has faced various challenges.
According to data obtained from various sources, including the Fibre Crops Directorate, sisal exports from Kenya have been on the rise in recent times, hitting $11.1 million (Sh1.2 billion) in earnings. This is due to a rise in global prices, and the country exported 7,687.6 metric tonnes (MT) of sisal during the period, the highest export volumes compared to previous periods. The government has been promoting the production of sisal to small-scale farmers, and the world market for Kenyan sisal is hitting the roof.
Despite the recent success in sisal exports, the production and yield of the crop have been declining in the last four decades. This trend is similar to other sisal-producing nations, except Brazil, whose production has been rising, and China, whose yield has been increasing. Sisal is grown in areas that have a high prevalence of poverty, and it is an essential source of income generation and employment creation for many Kenyan farmers. The sisal sub-sector supports approximately 30,000 farmers, with a potential to support 150,000 farmers.
History of Sisal Farming in Kenya
The sisal growing and processing industry in Kenya can be traced back to 1914, when the first sisal growing firm was established in Thika. The industry grew by leaps and bounds in the first 50 years characterized by a rapid increase in acreage and quantity of sisal exported. Sisal cultivation in Kenya was initially concentrated in the coastal region, but it soon spread to other parts of the country.
During the colonial period, sisal was the most important cash crop in Kenya, and the country was the leading exporter of sisal fiber in the world. The industry was dominated by large estates owned by European settlers, who enjoyed government support in the form of subsidies and tax breaks. The estates were run like mini-states, with their own schools, hospitals, and police forces.
After independence in 1963, the Kenyan government embarked on a program of land reform, which aimed to redistribute land from European settlers to landless Africans. As a result, many sisal estates were broken up and sold to small-scale farmers. However, the government did not provide adequate support to these farmers, and many of them struggled to make a living from sisal cultivation. In addition, the industry faced competition from synthetic fibers, which were cheaper and more versatile than sisal.
Decline of Sisal Farming in Kenya
Sisal farming in Kenya has experienced a significant decline in production over the last few decades. According to research conducted by ADRA, global sisal production declined by 50% in 2018, which is the largest decline recorded since the inception of the crop. Kenya, which is one of the largest producers of sisal, has not been spared from this decline.
Figures indicate that the production of sisal in Kenya has exhibited a declining trend in the last four decades. The production of sisal in Tanzania has also shown a drastic decrease, while Brazil has experienced erratic production with marginal increase.
Despite the decline in production, Kenya’s earnings from sisal crops in the third quarter of 2021 rose to 1.25 billion shillings (11.3 million U.S. dollars) on high international prices. The price of a kilo of sisal hit a high of 1.6 dollars during the quarter, up from 1.49 dollars in a similar period in 2020.
The decline in sisal farming in Kenya can be attributed to various factors, including climate change, inadequate government support, and competition from synthetic fibers. Droughts have been a significant challenge for sisal farmers in Kenya, causing a decline in production due to reduced rainfall and water scarcity.
Furthermore, the government has not provided adequate support to sisal farmers to improve their production and market their products effectively. This has led to a lack of investment in the sector and a decline in the number of farmers engaged in sisal farming.
Lastly, the rise of synthetic fibers has led to a decline in demand for sisal products, as synthetic fibers are cheaper and easier to produce. This has reduced the profitability of sisal farming, leading to a decline in production.
In conclusion, the decline of sisal farming in Kenya has been caused by various factors, including climate change, inadequate government support, and competition from synthetic fibers. As a result, the sector has experienced a significant decline in production over the last few decades.
Reasons for the Decline
Kenyan sisal production has been declining for the past four decades, and there are several reasons for this.
- Drought: One of the main reasons for the decline in sisal production is drought. According to a recent report, Kenya’s Q3 sisal exports declined by 9% due to drought. This has led to a decrease in yields and quality of the crop, resulting in lower production.
- Competition: Another reason for the decline in sisal production is competition from other crops. Farmers are shifting to other crops that are more profitable, such as coffee and tea. This has led to a decrease in the area under sisal cultivation.
- Ageing plants: Many of the sisal plants in Kenya are old and have reached the end of their productive life. This has led to a decrease in yields and quality of the crop.
- Lack of investment: Sisal farming requires a significant amount of investment in terms of labor, fertilizer, and equipment. However, many farmers do not have access to the necessary resources to invest in their farms. This has led to a decrease in yields and quality of the crop.
Despite the decline in production, Kenya’s earnings from sisal in the third quarter of 2021 rose to 1.25 billion shillings (11.3 million U.S. dollars) due to high international prices. However, the decline in production is a cause for concern, and efforts need to be made to revive the sisal industry in Kenya.
Current State of Sisal Farming in Kenya
According to the available data, sisal production and yield in Kenya has been declining in the last four decades. This is also the trend in other sisal-producing nations, except Brazil whose production has been rising and China whose yield has been increasing. In 2021, Kenya produced 22,771.78 tonnes of sisal, a decrease from the 2019 production of 21,009 tonnes. The fluctuation in production is attributed to various factors, including climate change, market dynamics, and government policies.
Despite the decline in production, sisal remains an important cash crop in Kenya, especially for small-scale farmers. The crop is grown in various parts of the country, including Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Kwale, and Kitui. Sisal is valued for its fiber, which is used in the production of various products, such as ropes, twines, carpets, and paper. The crop is also used in the production of biodegradable materials, making it an environmentally friendly option.
Recently, Kenya’s sisal export earnings have been on the rise, hitting Sh1.2 billion in the first quarter of 2021. This is attributed to the recovery of international markets after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The increase in global prices also contributed to the surge in sisal exports, which rose to $11.1 million during the period.
Efforts are underway to revive sisal farming in Kenya, including the implementation of policies and initiatives aimed at promoting the crop’s production and value addition. The government is also working with various stakeholders to address the challenges facing sisal farming, such as pests and diseases, low yields, and inadequate market access. Additionally, there are ongoing research and development efforts aimed at improving the crop’s productivity and quality, as well as exploring new uses for sisal fiber.
Future of Sisal Farming in Kenya
Sisal farming has a promising future in Kenya, with growing public awareness of the environmental benefits of natural fibers. Despite fluctuations in production over the years, Kenya remains one of the leading sisal producers in the world. In 2021, the country produced 22,771.78 tonnes of sisal, according to Knoema data.
Kenya’s sisal export earnings hit Sh1.2b as markets recover, with sisal exports soaring to hit $11.1 million. During the period, Kenya exported 7,687.6 metric tonnes (MT) of sisal, the highest export volumes compared to previous periods. This is a promising sign for the future of sisal farming in Kenya, as global demand for natural fibers continues to rise.
However, sisal farmers in Kenya face challenges such as declining yields and competition from synthetic fibers. According to a report by Reuters, plastic bag bans in Kenya have raised hopes for sisal farmers, as roadside vendors and market traders use sisal fibers to make carrier bags. This presents a new market for sisal farmers and a potential solution to the problem of declining yields.
Furthermore, government support for sisal farming in Kenya can help ensure the industry’s future success. The Fibre Crops Directorate has been instrumental in promoting sisal farming in the country, providing technical support and training to farmers. Continued investment in research and development can lead to new uses for sisal fibers and increased demand for the crop.
In conclusion, the future of sisal farming in Kenya looks promising, with growing demand for natural fibers and new markets for sisal products. With government support and continued investment in research and development, sisal farming can continue to thrive in Kenya and contribute to the country’s economic growth.