What is Kenaf?

Kenaf is a fiber plant native to east-central Africa where it has been grown for several thousand years for food and fiber. It is a common wild plant of tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia.

It has been a source of textile fiber for such products as rope, twine, bagging and rugs. Kenaf is a promising source of raw material fiber for pulp, paper and other fiber products, and has been introduced since WWII in China, Russia, Thailand, South Africa, Egypt, Mexico and Cuba.
Kenaf is a close relative to cotton and okra and is originally from Africa. It is a crop that is easily grown and is high in yield.

Two distinctive fibers are harvested from the stalks. One is a jute-like, long bast fiber from the bark. The bast fiber is used to make burlap, carpet padding and pulp. The second fiber is short, spongy core fiber that resembles balsa wood. It is processed into poultry house bedding, oil-absorbent mats and packing materials.

Primary Uses

Virginia Status

What Farmers Need to Know:

Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.), a warm-season annual plant, has shown potential as an alternate source of fiber in the United States. Although preliminary research has indicated feasibility of kenaf production in Virginia, production details are lacking. Field experiments were conducted during 1995 and 1996 to determine optimal row spacing and fertilizer needs, and to compare available kenaf cultivars.

Although results indicated that differences in dry matter yields from four row spacings (30, 60, 90, and 120 cm) and four rates each of N, P, and K fertilizers (50, 100, 150, and 200 kg ha-1) were not statistically different, the yields were adequate ranging from 8.8 to 16.0 t ha-1 with an average yield of 12.5 t ha-1. Dry matter yields for narrow-leaf cultivars proved superior to broad-leaf, and the overall results demonstrate that kenaf can be easily produced in Virginia.

Industries that will Benefit the Most.

Pulp | Paper | Cardboard | Panels | Cordage | Agriculture | Packaging | Fuel

Near & Longterm Outlook:

Kenaf offers numerous benefits to local farmers. It thrives on humidity and rainfall while growing in the field, and during “retting,” a processing stage dependent on the first morning dew.

Kenaf excellent strength, insulating and absorption qualities make it an ideal candidate for products such as I Beams,joists and structural insulated panels.

National Status

Primary Regions

Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.), a warm-season annual plant, has shown potential as an alternate source of fiber in the United States.

Crop History

It was introduced into the United States in 1942 when wartime rope shortages forced researchers to look for alternative fibers to hemp. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, ever on the lookout for new cash crops for American farmers, in 1956 began experimenting with the use of kenaf pulp in the production of paper.

Current Economics

Kenaf potentially is a valuable crop for farmers, including many of those in Oklahoma.

Kenaf has the ability to inhale large quantities of the gas. So even if one were to argue C02 needs to be reduced, here is your solution. Kenaf is capable of absorbing 3-8 times more CO2 than a tree. One acre of Kenaf can pull about 10 tons of CO2 out of the air per growing season, and in some parts of the world it can be cut back and regrown for a second season. With proper management, a single acre planted in Kenaf could absorb 20 tons of CO2.

Worldwide Status

Primary Regions

Kenaf is cultivated for its fibre in India, Bangladesh, United States of America, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Vietnam, Thailand, parts of Africa, and to a small extent in southeast Europe.

Crop History

Kenaf, according to Murdoc, was domesticated in 3500 B.C. in Nuclear Mande, an agricultural region of Western Africa where agriculture developed independently from Egyptian farming. Indeed, in Egypt, as of 5000 B.C., they had obtained the first domesticated species - vegetable and animal - by migration from the hilly regions of Central Iraq. While the utilization of kenaf originated in Western Africa north of the equator, it is more difficult for researchers to identify the origin of the species.

Whereas there is no foundation to the hypotheses of an Asian origin of the species since there are no wild species in Asia. The migration toward Asia probably took place together with karkady (hibiscus) by sea or with caravans through the territory of Mesopotamia.

The discovery in this area, by an Italian archaeological mission, of objects made with kenaf fibre that turned out C14 datable to 2400-2800 B.C. seems to confirm this hypothesis.

Current Economics

Rising demand for natural products which have specific needed attributes, may now be a key determinant of market growth. Economists observe that if countries such as U.S., India and China, among others, have recorded economic breakthrough with kenaf development, Nigeria can do the same by encouraging its cultivation and promotion of its benefits via awareness campaign.

Important Fiber Terms