Madagascar and Sisal Plantations

Wages, government and employment conditions for agricultural workers on a sisal plantation on the world’s fourth-largest island of Madagascar.

What is sisal?

In Africa sisal is cultivated for fiber in Angola, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania
Sisal plant

Sisal is a strong fiber from the spiny leaves of the agave plant. Sisal hemp, or henequen, is the name given to the cleaned and dried fiber of the cultivated varieties of the agave plant. The name sisal may have originated from having been first exported through the port of Sisal, in Yucatan.

In Africa, sisal is cultivated for fiber in Angola, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania. In Tanzania and Kenya, sisal is predominantly a plantation crop as opposed to small-scale farming.

A coarse and strong fiber, sisal is used in fabrics, twine, ropes, string, yarn, carpets, mats, cigarette paper filters, and tea bags. Sisal is also used in composite materials for cars, furniture, and construction as well as in plastics and numerous paper products.

Sisal can also be used to add strength in cement mixtures for the development of low-cost housing and to replace asbestos in roofing and brake pads. In addition, it is an insulation material and can be made into fiberboard as a wood substitute.

Sisal is not the same fiber as jute. Jute is a long, soft, shiny vegetable fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. The finest jute comes from the Bengal Delta Plain, mostly in Bangladesh and India. The stalks of the plant are harvested, bundled and soaked in water for about 20 days to soften the tissues and permit the fibers to be separated. The fibers are then stripped from the stalks, washed, dried and baled. Jute has a very soft feel similar to cotton.

Working on a sisal plantation in Madagascar

Sisal Plantation in Madagascar
Sisal Plantation in Madagascar

Although the sisal leaves contain about 90% moisture, they are rigid and the fleshy pulp is very firm. The first cutting of leaves takes place 3 to 4 years after planting and averages 25 mature leaves per plant. The fibers that lie embedded longitudinally in the leaves, being most abundant near the leaf surfaces, must be removed from the leaves as soon as they are cut in order to avoid the risk of damage during the cleaning process.

A bruise or injury to them stains the fiber and lowers its quality. Fiber removal is done by scraping away the pulpy material, generally by a machine or by hand stripping. When all the leaves have been cut, the stalk is cut away and the old plant is replaced by a sucker or a plant from the nursery.

In the town of Amboasary Sud in the Anosy region of southeastern Madagascar, in 2011 a sisal plantation worker can earn a US salary of $15 working 10 days a month. In an area with over 220,000 people, the plantation takes up 80% of land suitable for growing crops in five of the 16 villages. This limits the space needed to grow other crops to add to the household food needs. Agriculture is the main source of income for households in Madagascar. Further, rice is the primary staple crop, accounting for almost 50% of all calorie consumption in the country.

Sisal farming uses large amounts of water for the production and cleaning process. Only around 4% of the plant is used and 96% is a waste by-product. There is the economic need for sisal fiber production as well as the need to increase food production, achieve poverty alleviation and improve environments in the arid and semi-arid areas of Madagascar where sisal is grown.

Saturday in Madagascar
Saturday in Madagascar

Current Economy of Madagascar

Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the Madagascar economy, accounting for more than one-fourth of GDP and employing roughly 80% of the population. Deforestation and erosion, aggravated by bushfires, slash-and-burn clearing techniques, and the use of firewood as the primary source of fuel, are serious concerns to the agriculture-dependent economy. Madagascar produces around 80% of the world’s vanilla and its reliance on this commodity for most of its foreign exchange is a significant source of vulnerability.

Madagascar is a mostly unregulated economy with many untapped natural resources, but no capital markets, a weak judicial system, poorly enforced contracts, and rampant government corruption. Madagascar’s main export commodities are coffee, vanilla, shellfish, sugar, cotton cloth, clothing, chromite, petroleum products, gems, ilmenite, cobalt, and nickel.

Exports of apparel boomed after gaining duty-free access to the US market in 2000 under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); however, Madagascar's failure to comply with the requirements of the AGOA led to the termination of the country's duty-free access in January 2010, a sharp fall in textile production, a loss of more than 100,000 jobs, and a GDP drop of nearly 11%, however, Madagascar regained AGOA access in January 2015.

Madagascar plantation taxi
Madagascar plantation taxi

Government and officials of Madagascar

Madagascar has been independent of France since June 26, 1960. The legal system is a civil law system based on the old French civil code and customary law in matters of marriage, family, and obligation. The government type is a semi-presidential republic which is a system of government in which a president exists alongside a prime minister and a cabinet, with the latter being responsible to the legislature of a state. The President of Madagascar is head of state and the Prime Minister of Madagascar is head of government.

Madagascar Key Leadership Roles as of September 2019

Andry Rajoelina

Prime Minister
Christian Ntsay

Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries
Lucien Fanomezantsoa Ranarivelo

Minister of Communication and Culture
Lalatiana Andriantogarivo Rakotondrazafy

Minister of Economy, Finance, and Budget
Richard Randriamandrato

Minister of Employment and Public Service
Gisele Ramampy

Minister of Energy, Water, and Hydrocarbons
Vonjy Andriamanga

Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development
Alexandre Georget

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Naina Andriantsitohaina

Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research
Felicitee Madeleine Rajo-Fienena

Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Crafts
Ladisoa Rakotomalala

Minister of Interior and Decentralization
Tianarivelo Razafimahefa

Minister of Justice
Jacques Randrianasolo

Minister of Mining and Strategic Resources
Fidinarivo Ravokatra

Minister of National Defense
Leon Richard Rakotonirina

Minister of National Education and Professional Development
Marie Therese Volahaingo

Minister of Population
Irmah Lucien Naharimamy

Minister of Post, Telecommunication, and New Technology
Christian Ramarolahy

Minister of Public Health
Julio Rakotonirina

Minister of Public Security
Roger Rafanomezantsoa

Minister of Public Works and Infrastructures
Hajo Andrianainarivelo

Minister of Transport, Tourism, and Meteorology
Joel Randriamandranto

Minister of Youth and Sports
Tinoka Roberto

Sec. of State for Gendarmerie within the Minister of Defense
Richard Ravalomanana

Governor, Central Bank
Gaston Ravelojaona

Ambassador to the US
Eric Andriamihajamananirina Robson

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York
Arisoa Lala Razafitrimo

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