Sisal in Tanzania

The sisal plant, a member of the Agavaceae plant family and indigenous to the arid regions of north and central America, was first introduced to East Africa in 1893 by visionary German Agronomist Dr. Richard Hindorf who smuggled the plant Agave sisalana into Tanganyika from Yucatán, Mexico. Only 62 plants had survived the journey, but it was commercially viable to start the industry. The country's warm and semi-arid climate was perfect for the plant and production grew exponentially.

 

At independence in 1961, Tanganyika was the world leader in Sisal production and over 200,000 tonnes of sisal were produced annually employing over 1 million workers in the industry. The crop was the country's highest foreign exchange earner and was referred to as Tanzania's 'green gold'.

 

Sisal production in the country peaked in 1964 with around 250,000 tonnes in production from regions from all over the country such as Tanga, Morogoro, Arusha, Mwanza and Shinyanga. In 1967 following the Arusha Declaration most of the sisal estates were nationalized by the government. Furthermore, the increasing popularity of synthetic nylon fibres drove the world price for sisal down resulting in the foreclosure of many sisal factories.

 

With the changing economic landscape in Tanzania, the government of Tanzania passed the Sisal Industry Act, 1997; which allowed privatization of the government owned factories and established the Tanzania Sisal Board. Sisal production since has been stable. Tanzania currently sits as the second largest producer of Sisal in the world after Brazil and the government plans to revive the industry to help facilitate the nations former glory.

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