Sisal fibre is obtained from Agave sisalana, a native of Mexico. The hardy plant grows well in a variety of hot climates, including dry areas unsuitable for other crops. After harvest, its leaves are cut and crushed in order to separate the pulp from the fibres. The average yield of dried fibres is about 1 tonnes per hectare, although yields in East Africa reach 2.5 tonnes.
Lustrous and creamy white, sisal fibre measures up to 1 m in length, with a diameter of 200 to 400 microns. It is a coarse, hard fibre unsuitable for textiles or fabrics. But it is strong, durable and stretchable, does not absorb moisture easily, resists saltwater deterioration, and has a fine surface texture that accepts a wide range of dyes.
World production of Sisal and a similar agave fibre, henequen, is estimated at around 300 000 tonnes, valued at $75 million. The major producers are Brazil (120 000 tonnes), Tanzania (30 000) and Kenya (25 000).
Source: FAO 2009