History of sisal in Kenya

Sisal growing and processing industry in Kenya can be traced back to 1914, when the first sisal growing firm was established in Thika. The industry grew by leaps and bounds in the first 50 years characterized by a rapid increase in acreage and quantity of sisal exported. The increase in sisal production led to the establishment of a spinning factory in Juja and a sisal research station in Thika.

The invention of cheaper synthetic fibers in the 1940’s, can be marked as a major drawback for the world sisal production, since, it led to reduced sisal demand.

Growing areas

  • Sisal is a drought tolerant crops grown in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands in Kenya (ASALs) where food crops do not perform well thereby acting as important food security.
  • Sisal is mainly grown as a plantation crop with the estates producing over 80% of the total production. The estates are located in Kilifi, Makueni, TaitaTaveta, Baringo and Nakuru Counties.
  • Smallholder sisal farming is spread countrywide with a concentration at:
  • Eastern region - Machakos, Makueni and Kitui
  • Nyanza region - Homa Bay Migori and Siaya
  • Rift Valley - around plantation farms in Migotiyo area in Baringo County
  • Coast region - in Kilifi County.

Smallholder sisal production

Smallholder sisal is mostly grown as a boundary crop and along contours as hedge rows for soil conservation. Most of it is not grown for harvesting. However, as a result of improved incomes from the crop, farmers have started planting it as a stand-alone crop in their farms. Area under this crop is estimated at 2,500 acres.

Social economic importance

  • Sisal is grown in areas that have high prevalence of poverty. It is an important source of income generation and employment creation..

Structure of sisal crops value chains

  • Sisal production
  • Sisal processing – decortication, cleaning, drying, brushing, grading and baling
  • Spinning
  • Weaving
  • Peripheral industries (animal feed, bio-energy production, geo-textiles, specialty papers, dartboards etc.)

Production trends

  • Kenya is the third highest producer of sisal in the world after Brazil and Tanzania.
  • Average sisal production for the last five years stands at 24,461 MT.
  • Area under sisal in year 2018 was 29,000 ha
  • Yields per Hectare are low i.e. 0.5 to 1.0MT/ ha against a potential of 2.5 to 5.0 Mt/ha

Sisal is mainly grown as a plantation crop with the estates producing over 80% of the total production. There are ten sisal plantations with an area of 32,975 (Ha) in 2017.