The ban of plastic bags will negatively affect livelihoods as there are over 170 plastic manufacturing companies in the country which directly employs around 3% and over 60,000 people indirectly, according to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
The Government decided to ban the use of plastic bags to promote health and prevent environmental effects resulting from the use of plastic bags.
Some of the hazards from plastic bags include blocked sewers lines, damaged ecosystems and biodiversity, pollution of coastal and marine environment, death of terrestrial animals after consuming plastic material, emission of poisonous gaseous when used as fuel to light charcoal and the obvious air pollution when the plastics are burned in open air
The ban will see the government invest in reviving the sisal industry. Kenya is rated among the top producers of sisal globally and currently is in position one and three globally in terms of quality and production respectively.
The country is currently producing 23,000 metric tonnes of sisal annually and it is the third largest producer in the world after Brazil and Tanzania. To boost production, the government is encouraging private sector actors to set up facilities for processing and enhancing value addition.
For Elisha Okoth and Adoyo Okoyo, small scale sisal farmers at Karungu area in Migori County, for close to 40 years, they have been depending on sisal as the main economic mainstay.
They say that in the 1970s and 1980s, sisal was performing well in the area despite the farmers using the crop as fence for their farms.
“We have been planting sisal in small portions for subdividing our land or fencing purposes. During that time, sisals market was good with farmers earning high proceeds,” says Okoth.
But the trend changed in mid 1980s and early 1990s when farmers abandoned sisal farming owing to price manipulation among other unethical business practices by middlemen.
New sisal factory
Okoth, who is the chairman of Otaiti Fibre Crop Growers and Sisal Owners Group in Nyatike area of Migori, says if sisal production is revived, it will provide employment to many youth who are educated but are idle and thus tame poverty.
Last week, Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett opened a new sisal factory at Nyatike in Migori County which will help in revamping the industry.
Al Naqel Holdings Limited is owned by investors from Egypt and local partners.
“The new factory is part of the far reaching strategies the national government is undertaking to revive the sisal industry in Kenya. Based on the fact that large scale farming is not expanding, our focus is to woo small holder farmers. If well harnessed, sisal farming can help in taming the high poverty levels and high unemployment rate in addition to increasing revenue to both farmers and the government,” said Bett.
In an interview after opening the new sisal factory, the CS said the Governments will focus on encouraging small scale farmers to embrace production and return sisal back to its glorious days of 1972 when it was second foreign exchange earner after coffee.
“Even though Kenya is position one and three globally in terms of quality and production, the industry is largely dominated by large scale farmers and currently they are not expanding area under sisal. The Government will facilitate investors interested in placing their wealth in the sisal industry,” Bett said.
Bett said the quality of Kenya’s sisal has been used mainly in the manufacture of high quality and premium products including carpets, specialty paper and gypsum blocks among others.
“The world market for our sisal is hitting the roof and the government is now promoting the production to the small-scale farmers,” noted the CS.
“We want to shift from the estate type model and make sisal production one of the key revenue generators for our people,” said Bett, noting that the government is also encouraging small cottage industry in sisal production in order to utilize the waste into useful by products.
Bett noted that Kenya is only able to utilise four percent of the sisal while 96 percent goes to waste, adding that there is need to ensure 100 percent utilization which will in the long run trickle down to the farmers.
For Okoth and Adoyo, putting up the factory has made them think of not only concentrating more on sisal production but has also opening up their lands in a partnership with the Al Naqel holdings company that will see them grow more sisal and the company buying from them directly.
“In 1979 when I got married here, I found people making ropes from sisal using some handmade machines. We used to sell the ropes in the local market at Sh5 and we have continued with this business until now that this this factory has been established. It has opened up our eyes and we now know we can fetch much more money from sisal,” says Adoyo.
Through the agreement, she explains that the company will provide them with quality seeds once they have prepared land and in turn also come and buy from them directly. This she says will deter middlemen who have been taking advantage of them.
“I intend to expand the area under sisal to about 10 acres and believe that this deal will ensure I meet all my family’s obligations from educating my children, constructing a better house and also putting food on the table,”Adoyo says.
Okoth in turn says that the sisal factory has created awareness on the economic benefits of sisal farming in the community and that farmers will now be able to grow sisal and inter-crop with other crops to ensure food security.
Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) Interim Director General Alfred Busolo says sisal industry in 1972 was second in the country in terms of foreign exchange earnings after coffee and that the only research centre –Thika High Level Sisal research station was lost in 1972 when demand for sisal and the world price dipped.
“Due to the various problems facing the sisal industry, there has been lack of reinvestment and market development, products and market development and promotion, contributing to the decline of the industry,” says Busolo.
Despite the hiccups, Busolo says currently the area under sisal stand at 44,000ha with small holder farmers scattered all over the arid and semi-arid areas and mainly along the boundaries controlling 22.7 percent and the rest being largely under the control of 10 sisal estates in the Coast, Eastern and Rift Valley regions.
Fibre Crops Directorate interim head Anthony Mureithi says that their focus is to encourage small holder farmers to venture into sisal farming with a view to increasing national production by 30 percent in the next five years and boosting incomes both to the Government and farmers.
A report by Agro Processor International says that the sisal industry in Kenya started way back in 1907 when the first sisal plantation was established at Punda Milia near Thika. By 1914, the sisal industry had been firmly established in Kenya as a cash crop and the first 42 tonnes of sisal fibre from Kenya was exported to Europe the same year.
According to the 2015 Economic Review of Agriculture, the total sisal production decreased by 2.5 percent to 25,341 tons in 2014 from 25,983 tons recorded in 2013. Domestic consumption of sisal fiber more than doubled form 750 tons in 2013 to 1737 tons in 2014, this was due to an increasing demand for sisal bags for packaging. In addition, 91 percent of total production was exported in 2014.