Established in December 2010 with support from the German Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, the Future Fibres Initiative sets out to give much needed support to sisal and other hard fibres.
Sisal is a crop which is easily grown in dry areas, has a wide range of uses, many social, economic and environmental benefits but is currently underutilized. This versatile crop has strong potential to be up-scaled and provide a sustainable source of income to small farmers who live in drought prone parts of the world where other agriculture crops face considerable challenges. The focus countries are Haiti, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The project “Unlocking Commercial Fibre Potential in Developing Countries: Strengthening global value chains for rural development, poverty alleviation and the environment” is being implemented by the Trade and Markets Division (EST) of FAO.
Importance to smallholders
Being a crop that thrives on marginal land in hot and arid climates sisal’s importance to the livelihood and food security of millions of small farmers in some of the poorest and most arid regions of the world cannot be understated. Extremely low levels of inputs are needed to sustain cultivation which is concentrated on lands which would be too costly or too resource intensive to bring under food production. Sisial is a crop that contributes to food security of vulnerable rural populations by providing a source of income at times of crop failure owing to drought. While production continues to meet demand for traditional products, such as rope and twine, in recent years non-traditional applications have increasing found market outlets. Such innovative products include composite materials for use in a wide range of industrial uses, often substituting synthetic materials, as well paper pulp, biogas and fertilizer. These new avenues of utilization are important in view of the recent food crisis and the issues associated with the industrial utilisation of food resources for bio-fuels production. They are also important in view of climate change, especially guiding decision makers on how best to use land in the future.
Small producers suffered from shrinking markets for traditional sisal products, such as twines and ropes, owing to competition from crude oil-based synthetics. Opportunities for diversification of sisal production with other crops are limited or non-existing owing to environmental, climatic and resource constraints. Therefore, the Future Fibres initiative focuses on penetrating innovative, high value markets for industrial products while at the same time reducing environmental degradation and improving profitability by commercializing fibre residues and waste which account for about 95 percent of sisal biomass.
Sustainable, market-led initiatives
The Futures Fibres initiative takes a pro-active approach to empowering farmers and vulnerable communities in Haiti, Mozambique and Tanzania to realise the commercial and environmental potential of sisal value chains, through exploiting their comparative advantage in the crop’s cultivation. Via sustainable market-led initiatives in partnership with national and multinational enterprises, the scientific community, policy-makers and international agencies – working together towards a common vision – the Project will pioneer an integrated model of value chain development which focuses on high value markets.
The Initiative strives to: advance technology transfer under south-to-south cooperation and under north-to-south co-operation; advocate equitable business models that reward farmers and other agents for their enterprise; encourage the adoption of ethical social practices including advancing gender equality; and encourage ‘responsible choices’ in the market place that are in concordance with the bio-based economy via sustainability promotion.
Future Fibres Initiative represents an innovative commodity-based effort to project sisal demand into the future. This focus implies a major change in the type of stakeholder dialogue needed for developing sustainable market-led partnerships, with increasing emphasis being placed on non-agricultural end-uses.
To date the Project has established this website to publish information on fibre markets and keep stakeholders up to date with current developments and created a logo which will be used to promote activities and outputs of the Project. In line with the need to build awareness of the positive aspects of hard fibres, work has been completed to develop a standard logo and to design posters having key messages regarding sustainability, responsibility and technical attributes.
The logo can also be used by partners in the Project who produce sisal materials and products in order to generate added value through recognition of the logo by the international community.
A Multi-Stakeholder Consultation has been organized (15 November 2011) in Bahia, Brazil to bring together fibre producers, processors, researchers and scientists and industry representatives to explore possibilities for working together towards more sustainable, environmentally friendly and commercially viable partnerships for the future. The Consultation provides a unique opportunity for producers, researchers, manufacturers and policy-makers to meet and interact and is a first step to building partnerships that create a demand driven environment of the Project’s objectives and outcomes.