Tanzania’s sisal sub-sector is the oldest commercially organized agricultural undertaking and one of the longest surviving agricultural industries in the country.
Today, the sisal industry in Tanzania employs over 100,000 people, with a total production of 33,766 tonnes in 2018, down from about 40,000 tonnes in 2014.
Tanzania ranked second in the world for sisal production in 2018 only after Brazil with 80,042 tonnes.
Tanzania’s leading sisal growing regions are Tanga, Morogoro, Kilimanjaro, Coast, Lindi and Mtwara.
Farmers participating in the sisal value chain include those engaged in planting sisal for hedges, smallholders in estates and smallholders growing sisal as a cash crop in non-estate areas. In 2012, approximately 25% of sisal was produced by smallholders.
The main product derived from sisal is fibre. However, the extracted fibre constitutes only 2% of the sisal plant, while the other 98% is regarded as waste.
The fibres are then used to produce twine, cordage for hay, packaging, baling, building and many other uses including carpets, wall covering, doormats, car mats, buffing cloth used for polishing of metal and furniture, fine yarn, bag cloth, padding, mattresses and handicrafts.
In 2018, Tanzania produced 8,116 tonnes of ropes and twines from sisal, compared to 7,871 in 2014, (+ 3.1%).
New products developed from the sisal plant include pulp and paper mainly for making boxes for packaging.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), recent studies have shown that sisal waste is more valuable than the fibre.
Products obtained from sisal waste include biogas used in engine-generator sets to produce electricity. Sisal waste can also be used directly as animal feed.
Traditionally, sisal fibre and products have mostly been exported to the European Union (EU), the Russian Federation, the former Yugoslavia, Japan, India, China and Pakistan and recently to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.
In 2019, Tanzania exported 17,900 tonnes of sisal at a price of USD 1,622.6 per ton, compared to 15,200 tonnes in 2015 at USD 1,748.8 per ton.
Tanzania Sisal Market Outlook
In 2020, the Government of Tanzania announced that it will audit all sisal plantations with the intention of identifying undeveloped areas and repossessing them. Then, those plantations would be given to farmers for redevelopment.
This is part of the Government’s plan to increase sisal production to 120,000 tonnes per year by 2024.
FAO indicates that demand for new products made from sisal has been growing at a very fast rate in the world market over the past decade.
“Tanzania has a unique position as it has comparative and competitive advantages in sisal, such as the weather, soil and human capital which is a catalyst to the growth of the industry,” FAO notes.
Furthermore, it is estimated that by 2025 at least 100,000 tons of fibre will be needed in Tanzania alone.
In the Near East the increased utilization of sisal in construction has made the region the second largest user of sisal fibre in the world. In the Far East, particularly China, imports of sisal fibre have grown significantly in recent years, according to FAO.
The majority of this fibre is utilized more in the new products, such as industrial polishing cloth and composites.