International Year of Natural Fibres

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome has declared 2009 the International Year of Natural Fibres. Such natural fibres as cotton, wool, silk, jute and flax are being promoted for their efficiency and sustainability, and to "contribute to a greener planet."

The objective of the International Year of Natural Fibres is to:

  • raise awareness and stimulate demand for natural fibres;

promote the efficiency and sustainability of the natural fibres industries;

  • encourage appropriate policy responses from governments to the problems faced by natural fibre industries;
  • foster an effective and enduring international partnership among the various natural fibres industries.


Why should I be aware of this?

There has been a dramatic rise in the use of synthetic fibres since the 1960s, and natural fibres have been losing their market share. The International Year of Natural Fibres aims to raise the profile of these fibres and emphasize their value to consumers while helping to sustain the incomes of the farmers. Promoting measures to improve the efficiency and sustainability of production is also an important aspect of the Year.

Apart from being an important component of clothing, upholstery and other textiles for consumers, natural fibres also have industrial uses in packaging, papermaking and have many uses, including in the automobile sector. These are also an important source of income for the farmers.

All about International Year of Natural Fibres

Close to 30 million tonne of natural fibres are produced annually in the world, of which cotton is dominant with 20 million tonne, wool and jute each around 2 to 3 million tonne followed by a number of others.

In many developing and least developed countries proceeds from the sale and export of natural fibres contribute significantly to the income and food security of farmers and workers in the industry both nation wide and locally. For example, cotton in some west African countries, jute in Bangladesh and sisal in Tanzania are of major economic importance.


The use natural fibres to produce our clothes, carpets, cordage, paper, ships sails, and insulation and building materials goes back thousands of years. Hemp, which was cultivated in China in 2800 BC, is one of the oldest recorded uses of plant fibre for fabrics.

Technological revolution and the short term advantages of synthetics prompted the switch from natural fibres towards synthetic materials, mostly derived from petrochemicals.

Reverse movement

Now there is a growing movement away from petrochemical based fibres back to natural fibres, mainly because:

  • Rising costs of petrochemical based fibre
  • Synthetic fibres rely on precious non-renewable resources and incur environmental costs in their production.
  • Petrochemical based products pose a health risk in most applications, both from direct exposure and also from secondary exposure through soil, water and air pollution.

Natural fibres are either extracted from plants from the leaf, the inner bark or fruit/seed crop, or from animal wool/hair, or insect cocoon or from mineral product. Plant sources of fibre include cotton, hemp, kenaf, ramie, sisal, flax, linen, lime, jute, seagrass, bamboo and abaca. Animal sources of fibre include sheep, alpaca, llama, goat, and camel, and can be either wool, hair or leather. Insect fibre is predominantly from silkworm cocoons.

Major natural fibres

  • The world produces around 25 million tonnes of cotton annually with China, the United States, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Brazil being the major producers.
  • FAO statistics show that almost 100 countries are involved in wool production in recent years, totaling 2.2 million tones annually.
  • Production of jute fluctuates from year to year, depending on weather conditions and prices. In the present decade it has ranged from 2.3 to 2.8 million tonnes. India produces 60 percent of the world’s jute, with Bangladesh being the other major producer.
  • Coir, the fibre from the husk of the coconut, is produced in a number of tropical countries,
  • Silk production has gone up to 135 000 tonnes per annum in recent years. China is the main producer accounting for 70 percent of global production
  • Hemp is a bast fibre similar to flax, kenaf, jute and ramie, used for textiles, cordage and fine paper products. The wood-like core fibre can be used for animal bedding, garden mulch, fuel and an assortment of building materials.


  • Natural fibres are of major economic importance in the countries which produce them. Cotton is a major fibre in West African countries, jute in Bangladesh, and sisal is a major fibre in Tanzania.
  • Fibre industries generate employment opportunities for millions of people and contribute to a greener planet.
  • The fibres are environmentally friendly both in terms of production, and disposal. Therefore, promoting the use of natural fibres enhances the environment.


  • International Year of Natural Fibres
  • FAO declares 2009 as the international year of natural fibres
  • International Year of Natural Fibres 2009