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Natural Fibers
Written by Francesca Pistacchio   
Thursday, 04 September 2008 09:59

 What is Kenaf ?

Hibiscus cannabinus, is a plant in the Malvaceae family. Hibiscus cannabinus is in the genus Hibiscus and is probably native to southern Asia, though its exact natural origin is unknown. The name also applies to the fibre obtained from this plant. Kenaf is one of the allied fibres of jute and shows similar characteristics. Other names include Bimli, Ambary, Ambari Hemp, Deccan Hemp, and Bimlipatum Jute. It is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant (rarely a short-lived perennial) growing to 1.5-3.5 m tall with a woody base. The stems are 1-2 cm diameter, often but not always branched. The leaves are 10-15 cm long, variable in shape, with leaves near the base of the stems being deeply lobed with 3-7 lobes, while leaves near the top of the stem are shallowly lobed or unlobed lanceolate. The flowers are 8-15 cm diameter, white, yellow, or purple; when white or yellow, the centre is still dark purple. The fruit is a capsule 2 cm diameter, containing several seeds.


Uses

Kenaf has a long history of cultivation for its fibre in India, Bangladesh, Thailand, parts of Africa, and to a small extent in southeast Europe. The stems produce two types of fibre, a coarser fibre in the outer layer (bast), and a finer fibre in the core. It matures in 100 to 1,000 days. About 9,000 cultivars are produced. Grown for over 4,000 years in Africa where its leaves are consumed in human and animal diets, the bast fiber is used for cordage, and the woody core of the stalks burned for fuel. This crop was not introduced into southern Europe until the early 1900s. Today, principal farming areas are throughout China, India, and in many other countries including the following: Mackay, Australia in trial stages; Seed farms- Texas,USA and Tamaulipas, Mexico; North Carolina, USA , Senegal to name a few. The main uses of kenaf fiber have been rope, twine, coarse cloth (similar to that made from jute), and paper. In California, Texas and Louisiana, 3,200 acres (13 km²) of kenaf were grown in 1992, most of which was used for animal bedding and feed. Emerging uses of kenaf fibre include engineered wood, insulation, and clothing-grade cloth. Panasonic has set up a plant in Malaysia to manufacture kenaf fibre boards and export them to Japan, oil absorbent (based on patent issued to H. and C. Willett), soil-less potting mixes, animal bedding, packing material, organic filler for blending with plastics for injection molding (using the technology developed and patented by Fibre Packaging International, Inc.), as an additive for drilling muds, and various types of mats, such as seeded grass mats for instant lawns and moldable mats for manufactured parts and containers. Kenaf seeds yield a vegetable oil that is edible and high in omega antioxidants. The kenaf oil is also used for cosmetics, industrial lubricants and as bio-fuel.

Kenaf paper

The use of Kenaf in paper production offers various environmental advantages over producing paper from trees. In 1960, the USDA surveyed more than 500 plants and selected kenaf as the most promising source of "tree-free" newsprint. In 1970, kenaf newsprint produced in International Paper Company's mill in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was successfully used by six U.S. newspapers. Printing and writing paper made from the fibrous kenaf plant has been offered in the United States since 1992. Again in 1987, a Canadian mill produced 13 rolls of kenaf newsprint which were used by four U.S. newspapers to print experimental issues. They found that kenaf newsprint made for stronger, brighter and cleaner pages than standard pine paper with less detriment to the environment. Due partly to kenaf fibers being naturally whiter than tree pulp, less bleaching is required to create a brighter sheet of paper. Hydrogen peroxide, an environmentally-safe bleaching agent that does not create dioxin, has been used with much success in the bleaching of kenaf. Various reports suggest that the energy requirements for producing pulp from kenaf are about 20 percent less than those for wood pulp, mostly due to the lower lignin content of kenaf. Many of the facilities that now process Southern pine for paper use can be converted to accommodate kenaf. USDA kenaf expert Daniel Kugler predicts that kenaf will be widely used to make paper, and that it represents a promising cash crop for American farmers. One acre of kenaf produces 7 to 11 tons of usable fiber in a single growing season. In contrast, an acre of forest (in the USA) produces approximately 1.5 to 3.5 tons of usable fiber per year. It is estimated that growing kenaf on 5,000 acres (20 km²) can produce enough pulp to supply a paper plant having a capacity of 200 tons per day. Over 20 years, one acre of farmland can produce 10 to 20 times the amount of fiber that one acre of Southern pine.

Common names

English: kenaf (Persian origin) India (Bengal): mesta India (Madras): palungi India (Bombay): deccan hemp Taiwan: ambari Egypt & Northern Africa: til, teel, or teal Indonesia: Java jute Brazil: papoula de Sao Francisco South Africa: stokroos West Africa: dah, gambo, and rama.

Pesticide and fertilizer use in kenaf crops

Kenaf is considered a hardy plant that requires a minimum of fertilizers, pesticides and water in comparison to conventional row crops.

 Image:Kenaf.jpg

Dried Kenaf stems