Drying of the sisal fibre in the sun.
Photos: J. Boethling

16.06.2016

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Until the late sixties, Tanzania was the world’s leader in sisal production. But the advent of synthetic fibres brought about a collapse of the industry that it took very long to recover from. Now cultivation and processing of this natural fibre, which is both environmentally friendly and used in a wide variety of areas, is experiencing a new upswing in northern Tanzania.

Damien Ruhinda is a true phenomenon. After leaving the state Tanzania Sisal Authority 25 years ago, he bought an abandoned sisal plantation at the foot of the Usambara Mountains in northern Tanzania at a low price. Weeds were thriving on the 1,750 hectares of land that he had acquired, many of the agaves were old, going to seed and no longer of any use for natural fibre production. Now more than 300 staff are cultivating and processing the thorny, green leaves of Agave sisalana, the fibres of which surround the vascular tissue in the pulp and were once referred to as “Africa’s blond gold”. 

“Yes, sisal really is tough,” says 80-year-old Ruhinda in his little office at D.D. Ruhinda & Company Limited in Tanga. His mobile is buzzing on his desk; his son has sent him an SMS from South India, informing him about new contacts to Indian carpet manufacturers. “First of all, I must emphasise that sales are not a problem; production is the real challenge,” Ruhinda explains.

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