The state of the sisal industry has been a dominant influence on the economy of East Africa since the industrialised world began to take an interest in the area. Since the end of the commodity booms of the 1950’s the world price of sisal has declined due to changes in technology (the introduction of combine harvesting abolished the need for sisal binder twine) and competition from synthetic fibres. The falling price has made it difficult for Tanzania’s estates to be maintained and output has fallen from a peak of 230,000 tons a year in the 60’s to an estimated 90,000 in 1979.

The falling price of sisal was used by Julius Nyerere to illustrate the weakness of primary producers in his statement on the economic relationships between the developed and underdeveloped worlds – ‘The Economic Challenge – Dialogue or Confrontation’.*

The increase in oil prices and hence in the raw materials for sisal’s artificial competitors may now at last produce an increase in demand for sisal. West Germany is to provide funds for the renovation and repair of decorticators (the machines which remove the fibre from the leaf) and more sisal cutters are to be recruited.

The Tanzania Sisal Authority has reached agreement with New Zealand to meet all its requirements for sisal fibre, rope and twine. There are also plans to process sisal within Tanzania and find new outlets. A new sisal bag factory being built at Morogoro will produce 10 million bags a year which is equal to half of the country’s total requirement. At Kilosa the Irish Government is financing a sisal factory.

* Address given at the Royal Commonwealth Society on 5th. Nov. 1975

(The above notes were compiled from information supplied by C.M. Axford, Graham Mytton, Kaj Persson (from an article in ‘Habari’, the journal of the Svensk-Tanzaniska Foreningen) and J. Roger Carter)

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