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Agave Plant Focus of Local Natural Fibre Industry

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The Agave americana, which grows in the arid Karoo and is known mainly for its use producing an alcoholic beverage similar to Tequila, has been the subject of a pilot study to explore the potential of its leaves for the production of textiles and papermaking.

In addition, the plant contains up to 25 per cent inulin which is used in the food and pharmaceutical industries, according to a series of multidisciplinary studies conducted by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The project is part of the Cacadu district municipality‘s local economic development programme, with a partnership agreement with the CSIR to explore opportunities in the use of animal and plant fibres.

Senior researcher at the CSIR fibre and textiles centre Dr Alex Boguslavsky says the research evaluated “the potential of the local Agave americana plant as a raw material for inulin and as a component in the textile and paper industries”.

The studies were co-funded by the CSIR and the Eastern Cape Development Cooperation (ECDC).

Managing director of Agave Distillers Roy McLachlan says a community-driven enterprise based in Graaff-Reinet has been established following the positive results of the studies. Referred to as the Agave Bio-products, Fibre and Papermaking Initiative, the entity has received support from the Camdeboo Municipality.

McLachlan says the enterprise is now securing funding for the first pilot phase to be launched in 2008 with the support of the ECDC and potential sponsors.

“During the pilot phase, the initiative will employ up to 36 people and an additional 70 jobs will be created once the initiative is fully-operational,” says McLachlan. The focus will be on “large-scale fibre production and processing, which is the most viable option for establishing agro-processing facilities in the Karoo area”.

Boguslavsky says a co-operative agreement between the CSIR and the Brazilian Natural Fibre Industries Association is currently being formalised.

“This initiative is very important both for the local economy and subsistence community . . . The full scale commercialisation of the Agave plant will create hundreds of jobs, mainly in the agricultural sector, and will not require high levels of skills.”

Cacadu economic development manager Duma Magxwalisa notes that maximising the economic benefits of the natural fibre resources within the district opens a chain of endless production opportunities that will help to position the district as the Eastern Cape‘s hub for natural fibres.

Source: The Herald Online

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