Why kenaf farming remains an opportunity for entrepreneurs in west africa

In Summary:

  • Kenaf farming will create development opportunities for entrepreneurs and the workforce.
  • West African states must encourage farmers to grow Kenaf crop to boost regional economies.
  • Automotive industry like Ford, Jaguar, Toyota and BMW use Kenaf Fibre for car interior because it is cheap and eco-friendly.

Kenaf is a raw fiber plant known to grow well in many parts of the world. Scientifically termed as hibiscus cannabinus, the tropical plant is an annual, non-wood fiber indigenous to Central Africa.

The produce of Kenaf has been considered sustainable eco-friendlier way to make paper without cutting down trees.

It is a plant in the Malvaceae family of Java jute, rapidly replacing jute because it is less labour intensive to produce and can be grown on a wide range of soils under varied climatic conditions.

Along with a closely related species called roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.), the two species account for one-third of the world production of soft fibers used for packaging.

While Kenaf is somewhat coarser than jute, it has greater tensile strength, is lighter in colour and has greater resistance to moisture.

The fibre plant grows in tropical climate and thrives with abundant solar radiation and high rainfall – a typical climate in west Africa region.

An institutional gap exists for entrepreneurs from the region to fill. The favorable west African climate is suitable for Kenaf farming.

Addressed properly, such intervention will boost the regional economies.

It will provide employment and development opportunities for rural entrepreneurs and the workforce. Kenaf fiber could become a wonder plant for sustainability.

Entrepreneurs and industrialists from western african region like Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bassau, Liberia, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo should revolutionize their economies by reducing import of raw materials for self-sufficiency of the industries.

Encouraging farmers to grow Kenaf and industries to use Kenaf products by the governments can be the first step in this direction.

Countries like Gambia where the river banks with plenty of alluvial soil and adequate water supply can reap the benefits of the crop.

While the countries like Mauritania where there is scarcity of water, irrigation and soil amelioration may help but instead of focusing on the production of raw materials, these countries can turn into processing hubs.

Kenaf could be a foundation to sustainability

Traditionally Kenaf is used for fibre production, such as making ropes, sacs and carpets.

However, it is also used for pulping and papermaking, board making, absorbents and potting media, filtration, textiles and livestock feed.

The commercial success of kenaf has important potential economic and environmental benefits in the areas of soil remediation, toxic waste cleanup, removal of oil spills on water, reduced chemical and energy use for paper production.

The fiber products can also be recycled.

According to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) in Nigeria, the shortage of raw materials for the paper-making industry in the country is the main reason for the downward slump of the industry.

Import substitution and introduction of crops like Kenaf in Nigeria remains the solution.

During the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Kenaf was one of the oil absorbents used.

Kenaf seed yield edible oil that is used for first class cooking oil and margarine production. About 20% of the volume of kenaf seed is oil – similar in composition to that of cotton.

The seeds can also be used for cooking (flour) and lubrication, soap manufacture, linoleum, paints and varnishes.

Usage by Automotive industry

The automotive industry uses the so-called biocomposites (made from kenaf bast fibre and resins) as replacement material for glass-reinforced plastic materials in the manufacture of car parts.

Back in 2012, Ford Motors announced to use sustainable materials in its production process like Kenaf fibre for interior door.

Kenaf, blended with polypropylene in a 50-50 mixture, will reduce the door component’s weight by 25% compared to conventional materials.

According to Ford, using the plant fiber offsets 300,000 pounds of oil-based resins annually in North America.

Even Jaguar, Toyota and BMW use Kenaf Fibre in the interior of their cars because it is cheap and eco-friendly.

Kenaf grows in range of weather than other fibre plants

Kenaf plant has a wider range of adaptation to climate than other fibre plants grown for commercial use.

The mean rainfall per month during the growing season ranges from 100-329 mm, but 500-625 mm over a period of 5 to 6 months is essential for the successful production of kenaf fibre.

During the growing season, a well-distributed rainfall of 100-125 mm per month is necessary for proper kenaf growth.

Under good conditions, it will grow to a height of 5 to 6 meters in 6 to 8 months and produce up to 30 tonnes per hectare of dry stem material.

It grows wild in Africa from the Equator to a limit of latitude 30°N and 30°S and at altitudes up to 1.250 m.

In some major kenaf growing areas, kenaf grows in a latitude range of 16°S to 41°N with a mean relative humidity range of 68-82%.

The mean growing temperature during the season ranges from 22.6°C to 30.3°C. Kenaf’s soft fibre is very similar to jute.

The produce has high fibre yields on acid peats, alluvial and colluvial silty loams, sandy loams, sandy clay loams, clay loams, alkaline and saline desert soils, latasols and many other soils.

Good soil drainage is the key because prolonged periods of standing water, particularly during the seedling stage. The large water requirement of Kenaf could be a problem in areas where irrigation water is limited, and the rainfall low.

It is better adapted to poor soils and soil alkalinity than jute because the soil origin, composition, and colour do not affect Kenaf.

Global research on Kenaf as a substitute

Since 1942 many countries have begun research studies on substitute fibres.

Kenaf has received the greatest attention because of its greater adaptability and ease of handling than allied fibre crops.

Within the past few years much research has been carried out on kenaf stems as a raw material for pulp and paper, and the leaves as a high-protein animal food.

Kenaf is commercially cultivated in more than 20 countries, particularly in India, China, Thailand and Vietnam as an important crop.

China, India, and Thailand account for 90 percent of the global area sown to kenaf and more than 95 percent of global production.

Other important production areas include Russia, Mozambique, Iran, Taiwan, El Salvador, Gautemala, Dahomey, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Kenaf is also planted in Africa, Latin America and some other countries of Asia.

Table 1: Global Production Of Kenaf (Metric Tonnes)

1043.1 619.3 227.6 159.5 24.9819.9 465.9 199.8 128.1 17.0703.9 364.9 210.4 109.3 15.0763.0 429.5 198.7 106.4 22.3500.3 248.0 182.2 47.2 14.6409.1 164.0 198.2 29.7 9.4372.1 126.0 198.0 29.6 11.3393.7 136.0 203.4 29.5 14.6383.7 130.0 202.1 30.0 14.6

Other important production areas include Russia, Mozambique, Iran, Taiwan, El Salvador, Gautemala, Dahomey, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Kenaf is also planted in Africa, Latin America and some other countries of Asia.

The Sustainable Projects Development Group (SPDG) of the UK chose South Africa for the establishment of a biocomposites project due to the excellent cultivating conditions of the crop in KwaZulu-Natal.

To date, the principle site for Kenaf cultivation has been Spain, but South Africa will add another cropping season (per year) to their global operation.

The project will not only benefit South African industry, but will also provide employment and development opportunities for rural entrepreneurs and the workforce in poor areas.

Young entrepreneurs in India are in news for making sanitary napkins using Kenaf fibre. All over the world, women need menstrual hygiene and catering to this need by a home-grown industry providing cheap, and environment-friendly.  

Kenaf can substitute Jute. Bangladesh for example had an absolute monopoly in Jute Exports back in 1947-48 with a market share of about 80% which fell to 25% in 1975-76.

Now, the Bangladesh government is again taking initiatives to revive its Jute Industries.

The main importers of Kenaf products like Bags and Sacs are countries producing volumes of agricultural products like the USA, UK, Japan, Germany and Netherlands.

Bangladesh, India and China account for over 90% of the world exports.

According to Nigeria’s Raw Materials Research and Development Council, the cost of jute sack importation is N2.75 billion in foreign exchange equivalent yearly.

This cost can easily be saved by many countries by simply encouraging farmers to grow Kenaf, with home-grown industries increasing the import substitution.


Research Papers, Books & Reports

  • Rouxlene Coetzee. “Characterization Of Kenaf (Hibiscus Cannabinus L.) Cultivars In South Africa”. Thesis For MSC 2004 From University Of The Free State Bloemfontein. November 2004. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/35214907_Characterization_of_Kenaf_Hibiscus_cannabinus_L_cultivars_in_South_Africa
  • Paridah MT, Abdelrhman AH, Shahwahid M. “Cost Benefit Analysis of Kenaf Cultivation for Producing Fiber in Malaysia”. Arabian Journal of Business & Management Review. 2017
  • Dempsey, J.M. 1975.Fiber crops. The University Presses of Florida, Gainesville
  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1998.FAO Production Yearbook Vol. 32.
  • FAO. 2003.The production and consumption of kenaf in China. ESC-Fibres Consultation no. 03/6

News Articles

  • “Happy Period! Niveda R and Gowtham S make eco-friendly sanitary napkins from kenaf fibre”. The Hindu. 21 November 2019
  • “Bringing back the glory days of jute”. Dhaka Tribune. 10 September 2020
  • “Ford To Use Kenaf Plant Materials In New Escape”. Triple Pundit. 31 January 2012
  • “Jaguar Land Rover is making luxury interiors of landfill waste”. Green Car Report. 30 September 2020
  • “New tree species, import substitution can revive paper industry”. The Guardian. 16 October 2020
  • “Kenaf Value Chain to save Nigeria billions of Dollars annually- RMRDC”. Blueprint. 12 October 2020
  • “How kenaf value chain development can save billions of naira”. The Guardian. 19 October 2020


  • Featured Image: International Natural Fiber Organization



Adittya Ghosh is from India. He has a Masters Degree in Geography with specialization in Terrain Evaluation & a Post-Graduate Diploma in Urban Planning & Development. He has a keen interest in Geography, History, Economics, Political Science & International Relations.

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