Sisal is a fibre crop that grows in the tropics. The main countries of production are Brazil, Kenya and Tanzania.
The same plants are grown for many years and the leaves are typically harvested (cut by hand) when they reach around 1m long. The green outer of the leaf is removed by a process known as decortication (and is used as animal feed) leaving metre long strands of super-strong natural sisal fibre.
The sisal plants are grown organically and absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere all year round. They also have a very low water requirement and survive droughts that kill other crops. For this reason farmers are being encouraged to grow them as a way to cope with climate change. The fact that the sisal leaves can be harvested at any time of year is also good for the farmers’ cash flow.
After decortication the sisal fibre is hung up to sun dry. From this point it is brushed and woven into the required textiles.
Sisal fibre and fabrics made from it are extremely strong, saltwater resistant, and when placed in the ground biodegradable in two to three years.