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Kenaf

Contributor: Charles S. Taylor, Kenaf International, Ltd., McAllen, TX [based on Dempsey (1975)]

Copyright © 1995. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributor.


  1. Common Names
  2. Scientific Names
  3. Uses
  4. Origin
  5. Crop Status
  6. Botany
    1. Taxonomy
  7. Crop Culture (Agronomy/Horticulture)
    1. Ecology
    2. Cultivars
    3. Production Practices
    4. Harvesting
    5. Processing
  8. Germplasm
    1. Collection
    2. Commercial Seed Sources
  9. Key References
  10. Selected Experts

Common Names (*)

English: kenaf (Persian origin)
India (Bengal): mesta
India (Madras): palungi
India (Bombay): deccan hemp
India (Andhra Pradesh): Bimli jute
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
(*) According to Miyake and Suzuta (1937), there are more than 129 names for kenaf worldwide.

Scientific Names

Species: Hibiscus cannabinus, L.
Family: Malvaceae

Uses

Traditionally cultivated for cordage uses in Africa and Asia, some kenaf is used by small pulp mills primarily in countries like China, India, and Thailand (although much of the acreage in the latter is devoted to roselle (H. sabdariffa L. var. altissma). Since the 1960's, there has been increasing interest in kenaf as an annually renewable source of fiber for the manufacture of newsprint and other pulp and paper products in the United States and other countries. By early 1995, some kenaf bast fiber is being used to make specially printing and writing grades in batch run at a pulp mill using a modified sulfate process. As newsprint prices increase, plans for a small newsprint mill in South Texas are likely to get another look. Meanwhile, kenaf fibers are presently entering the market in soil-less potting mixes, animal bedding, oil absorbents, grass and flower mats, decorative fibers, and insulation. Research and development activities are exploring numerous other industrial uses for the kenaf fibers. Over the past five years, ranchers have begun using kenaf as a green-chop forage crop. A solid kenaf seed industry has taken root in South Texas to supply this new crop industry both in the USA and overseas.

Origin

Africa (western Sudan)

Crop Status

(see Dempsey (1975), and attached references)

Grown for thousands of years in Africa where its leaves are consumed in human and animal diets, the bast fiber used for cordage, and the woody core of the stalks burned for fuel; this crop was introduced into southern Asia around 1900. Principal production areas are China, India, and the Tashkent area of the former USSR. Much of the kenaf production around the world is still grown and processed under labor intensive practices. Research and development efforts primarily in the USA since 1980 have resulted in a completely mechanized approach to kenaf, which has reduced labor requirements and environmental impact. However, the principal change required to effect the commercialization of kenaf is the need to focus on product applications and marketing of products using kenaf fibers. The systems approach postulated by Kenaf International, Ltd. calls for putting more resources into work focusing on market development instead of the standard production research focus. Essentially, kenaf is a traditional, third world crop that is poised to be introduced as a new annually renewable source of industrial fiber in the so-called developed economies.

Botany

Taxonomy

According to Dempsey (1975), kenaf is a short-day, annual herbaceous plant cultivated for the soft bast fiber in its stem. More recent efforts have identified commercial products from the woody core fibers as well. Kenaf belongs to the Malvaceae, a family notable for both its economic and horticultural importance. The genus Hibiscus is widespread, comprising some 200 annual and perennial species. Kenaf is closely related to cotton, okra, and the hollyhocks. Kenaf, along with roselle, is classified taxonomically in the Fucaria section of Hibiscus. This section includes between 40 and 50 species (distributed throughout the tropics) that are closely related morphologically.

Crop Culture (Agronomy/Horticulture)

Ecology

Kenaf has a relatively wide range of adaptation to climate and soils. With the exception of some early types developed for the Asiatic regions of the former USSR, most of the current kenaf varieties and technologies favor growing at low elevations between 37" N and S latitudes. Optimum growth is generally found in areas like the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas with its long, warm growing season and moderate rainfall backed up by irrigation.

Cultivars

Dempsey (1975) and Dr. Cook are authorities on kenaf cultivars. Currently, the principal commercial varieties are: Everglades 4l, Everglades 7l, Tainung l, Tainung 2, and Cuba 2032. The photo insensitive Guatemala 4 variety can be obtained in small quantities. The recently released USDA line SF459 has not yet been increased for commercial sales.

Production Practices

Kenaf is directed seeded with conventional grain drills after soil surface temperature exceed 55∞F and all danger of frost has passed. The germination rate of the seed should be at least 75 to 80%. Seed are drilled two rows per bed on 40-inch center with an intrarow spacing of approximately 2 inches. Effort should be made when introducing a new crop like kenaf to avoid much change to standard local spacings. Obviously, the planting configurations must be coordinated with harvesting plans. Land preparation is similar to other agronomic crops, e.g., cotton. Fertilizer and irrigation should be applied as needed. Generally, areas that are known to be heavily infested with root-knot nematodes should be avoided as most of the currently available varieties are susceptible. Moisture requirements vary but are believed to be between 3 and 5 inches per month during the crop's first 100 days.

Harvesting

Kenaf International, Ltd. with support from USDA's CSREES agency contracted with H. Willett & Associates, Inc. to design and test a harvesting, handling, hauling, and storage system for large-scale kenaf operations. Having experimented unsuccessfully in the past with various types of forage choppers, the team decided to modify the cane harvesting system used in southern Louisiana. The system was tested in 1988 and has been used in subsequent harvests. Essentially, the kenaf crop is topped at 12 feet and laid down to dry in windrows. The semi-dry stalks are picked up about 10 days later, cut into 1-ft billets, and blown into an accompanying dump buggy. The full buggies are unloaded into field-side module builders and the modules are then hauled to the fiber yard for storage.

Processing

Kenaf fibers can be processed traditionally using retting ponds as is common in Asia and parts of Africa and Latin America. In the USA the fibers are separated using a process developed by Willett at operations located in Louisiana and Texas. A third operation has been set up in Mississippi. The objective is to effect a mechanical separation of bast and core fiber materials for a wide range of product applications. The degree of separation required depends upon the end use.

As indicated earlier, the bast fiber can be pulped as a vegetable fiber for specially pulp and paper uses. The bast fiber can also be blended with plastic for injection molding purposes using the technology developed and patented by Fibre Packaging International, Inc. Mats can be made from the bast fiber using several textile and fiberglass technologies. Applications for the mats range from seeded grass mats for instant lawns to moldable mats for manufactured parts and containers. Some researchers are blending bast fibers with cotton for some textile purposes, but it is not clear whether this will be economically viable. Other potential uses include using the washed fibers in handicrafts.

The core fibers currently are sized and sold into several markets including oil absorbent (based on patent issued to H. and C. Willett), soil-less potting mixes, animal bedding, packing material, organic filler for plastics, additive for drilling muds, and insulation. It is possible compress the core in board and it might have some specially pulp uses. Some of the core material might be collected after its primary use, say as an absorbent or animal bedding and prepared for other uses.

Kenaf fibers can be pulped either in whole stalk or separated forms. Although various pulping technologies have been tested with kenaf, the only commercial operations presently using kenaf are kraft (sulfate) mills in Thailand using whole stalk and in North Carolina using bast fiber. Kenaf is not the principal fiber source for either mill. Most of the work to date on kenaf for newsprint and other printing and writing grades has focused on a modified thermo-mechanical process, which is energy intensive.

Germplasm

Collection

USDA Plant Introduction Center, Experiment, GA

Commercial Seed Sources

Kenaf International, Ltd., 120 E. Jay Ave., McAllen, TX 78504; tel. 210-687-2619; fax 210-687-2045

Key References

Selected Experts

Charles S. Taylor, Kenaf International, Ltd. 210-687-2619; fax 210-687-2045

Charles G. Cook, USDA/ARS Weslaco, TX. 210-969-4815; fax 210-969-4800

Andrew W. Scott, Jr., Rio Farms, Inc. 210-262-1387; fax 210-262-1138

Harold A. Willett, H. Willett & Associates, Inc. 318-276-3884; 318-276-9627

William A. Phillips, USDA/ARS El Reno, OK. 405-262-5291; fax 405-262-0133

Giovanni Mignoni, Rome, Italy. 396-308-883-53; fax 396-308-841-40

Yin-Tung Wang, Texas A&M University, Weslaco, TX. 210-968-5585; fax

P. K. Paul, Phoenix Pulp & Paper Co. Ltd. Thailand. 662-2548040; fax 662-2553999

M. F. (Buck) Ward, Kenaf International, Ltd. 409-445-2303; fax 210-687-2045

Garry Balthes, Fibre Packaging International, Inc. 714-248-9617; fax 714-248-2552

Marvin O. Bagby, USDA/ARS Peoria, IL. 309-685-4011; fax 309-671-7814

Arthur Owen, Ecusta division of P. F. Glatfelter Co. 704-877-2984; fax 704-883-3002

Daniel E. Kugler, USDA/CSREES Washington, DC 202401-6861; fax 202-401-5179

Contributor: Charles S. Taylor, Kenaf International, Ltd., McAllen, TX [based on Dempsey (1975)]

Copyright © 1995. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributor.


Last update Tuesday, February 24, 1998 by aw