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Habiba, a farmer in her 40's, is a single parent with four children living in Makuyuni Village, on the slopes of the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania. She is feeling more relaxed than a number of her neighbour's, because, she has enough food in her house, she has been able to send her two children to boarding school, she is caring for her sick mother and she has just completed major repairs to her house. She also contributed generously to the Makuyuni Village School Expansion Fund. Her neighbour's are suffering because their maize crop, which is their major economic activity, failed due to drought. But Habiba has been able to earn money because 6 years ago, she joined an out grower scheme to grow sisal - a very drought resistant plant producing a tough and hard Natural Fibre. The rain seasons in her village have been getting erratic and shorter and the land is drier. Therefore having a drought resistant crop which also does not use expensive chemical herbicides and pesticides is very attractive.

Habiba sells her sisal leaves to the processing plant, which is run by a local company - Katani Ltd, 10 kilometres away from her farm. The Company provides decortication, transport and extension services to sisal farmers who sell the leaves to produce the fibre which is sold locally and overseas. Habiba is a member of a cooperative society of 2100 members who have a 40% share in the processing plant in partnership with Katani. When the rains are good, Habiba also grows beans and other short term food crops in between the rows of the sisal.

Habiba gets income throughout the year because sisal is not seasonal. In 2008, her income averaged 320 US Dollars per month. Before joining the scheme she was also just a maize producer like some of her neighbour's, and her income was an average of only 38 US Dollars per month; and this when the rains were good!!! Life was so very difficult then.

Habiba has been able to visit Hale, another sisal estate run by Katani in Tanzania, where the Company has built a new plant (the first one in the World) producing biogas, electricity and fertilizer from the residual biomass in the sisal fibre extraction process. Katani was able to build this demonstration plant with assistance from the Common Fund for Commodities, UNIDO, FAO and the Tanzania Government.

Habiba was amazed and very excited about this new technology, which came from Germany and China and the fact that Katani will build another such factory at her estate. (In her estate, this residue, which is 96% of the sisal leaves, is still thrown away as waste!!!) It will be a relief to be able to get clean, reliable and renewable energy from the sisal waste. She will stop using firewood and charcoal for cooking and her children can do homework with electricity, which will be connected to their house. She will now be able to even buy a television set !!!. The fertilizer, which is effluent from the energy plant, she will put back in her field to increase the yields and conserve the soils. Katani demonstrated to them that the sisal Biogas will be used in tractors and trucks, further reducing her costs, which will reduce the need of our country to import oil !!! (Imagine !!! Sisal to run Tractors - this is really a pleasant dream !!!).

During her visit, which was part of a training program, Habiba was amazed to hear of new, high technology uses of the sisal fibre, in cars, in planes, in water tanks, in furniture, in paper, in construction, in woven products and the use of sisal residue to make pharmaceuticals - to name a few!!!. Habiba was also informed that the sisal fibre will now be used in constructing better houses and roofing materials. All these new uses, in addition to the traditional ones of yarns, ropes, carpets and rugs, will mean that her 15-acre sisal farm will be very valuable.

Habiba hopes that these new developments will be implemented quickly to enable her to earn more from her sisal farm and increase her savings. She is putting aside money to expand her farm and build a really modern house.

During her visit to Hale she also saw beautiful hand-made sisal baskets, mats and rugs. She is now setting up a small project with a group of other women at Makuyuni to produce these because she saw that these handicrafts are easy to produce and many of the women at her village do not have projects to generate extra income. People like to use these natural fibre handicrafts because they are really beautiful and they are environmentally friendly - unlike the plastic bags and mats, which have been littering the whole countryside.

Habiba felt proud that she is involved in an industry, which is part of the Natural Fibre family, and which is so important that the United Nations declared 2009 as the International Year of Natural Fibres. She is going to do all she can to ensure that people and Governments understand the importance of sisal and the contribution it can have in changing their lives and their countries for the better.

Habiba sends her greetings to fellow farmers all over the world who produce Natural Fibres like cotton, wool, jute, sisal, silk, coir and others and to all those people who use products from these Natural Fibres. She wishes them well in this important year and joins them in urging everybody in the world to DISCOVER and support these fibres because they are good for the world environment and they change the lives of millions of very poor people producing them. She welcomes them to visit her in Tanzania and hopes she will get the opportunity to visit them in their own countries.

Greetings delivered by:

Salum Shamte from Tanzania
At the Launch of the International Year of Natural Fibres

FAO Headquarters - Rome
22nd January 2009