The Year of Natural Fiber's Alpaca Stomp & Romp

Alpaca farm photo

Spring Fling at the Alpaca Extravaganza. Photo via Flickr: by Barnoid

Since the Dacron sweaters of Sixties and polyester leisure suits of the'70s, synthetic materials have taken a chunk of the market share from natural fibers, impacting developing countries and the profits of small-scale farms. So the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN hatched the idea of making 2009 the International Year of Natural Fibers. The goal is to heighten the fibers' profile as a key to sustaining farmers around the world. Stories of changes happening are impressive, from the return of sisal farms in Tanzania to educational programs about removing pesticides that significantly increase yields.

sisal farm photo

Photo via Flickr: by World Resources Institute

It's all intended to stimulate demand for natural fibers, encourage government policies, create effective partnerships within the industry, and promote 15 natural fibers harvested from plants and animals, such as jute in Bangladesh, coir in Sri Lanka, camel in Mongolia, mohair in South Africa, and ramie in the Philippines. (Tree fibers will be part of 2011's Year of Forests.)

Thirty million tons of natural fibers are produced annually for organic clothing, textiles, papermaking, and industrial packaging. One fiber, abaca is extracted from the trunk of the plant, a relative of the banana, requiring an arduous process with each stalk cut in strips, scraped to remove the pulp, washed and dried, and its key to the economic viability of farming communities in the Philippines.

Cotton-picking problems
How effective is this plan? With one project which limited pesticides on Pakistan cotton farms, 12% of trained farmers escaped poverty with higher crop profitability while reducing exposure to pesticides that led to a 50% drop in cases of acute poisoning among field workers.

But an alpaca program in Peru that attempts to break the hold of intermediary traders, allowing producers to sell directly in open market auctions seems iffy. "The benefits of this new way of doing business need to be made more widely known," FAO says, "so more alpaqueros can enjoy premium prices for higher quality fiber." By buying natural fibers and increasing demand, these programs will be more viable.

Lots of events are planned for The Year of Natural Fibers around the world, including last month's natural fiber fashion show in Rome and this month's Shepherd's Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival in Minnesota and 6th annual European Conference on Hemp. This summer there's also Victoria's FibreFest on Vancouver Island, "Sheep is Life" celebration in New Mexico, and the Spring Fling Alpaca Extravaganza in New Jersey next weekend.

More on Natural Fibers:
Eco Tip: Finding Solutions to Toxic Carpeting
Building the World with FlexForm Natural Composite
Eco2cottonâ„¢ - Jimtex Yarns & Martex Fiber
Check Out 3 Cutting Edge Insulations
Outdoors Clothing Made in USA from Natural and Recycled Materials

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