Originating in East Africa, Kenaf is a resilient plant species grown as a crop for the industrial use of its derived products. Often compared closely to its cousin Hemp, Kenaf’s resilient fibers and hyper absorbent core material lead many to think the little know crop could open even more paths towards a sustainable future.
Kenaf is a tropical plant but can be grown in various climates as it is drought tolerant. It can be successful in many different types of soil and can mature in about 4-5 months. Kenaf is recognized as a hardy plant requiring a minimum of pesticides, fertilizers, and water.
Kenaf has been used for its fiber for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations, especially the Egyptians, in Asia and Europe utilized hemp for rope, clothing, and other fibrous uses. Egypt also leveraged kenaf as a dietary supplement for its fiber. The crop was later introduced to Europe in the 20th century. Kenaf is also one of the fastest growing plants, going from seed to harvest in less than half a year. This makes it far more rapidly renewable than wood and cotton fiber. The entire kenaf crop is valuable, from its inner woody core, called hurd or shive, to its fiber, to its seeds. Modern applications of hemp in everyday products include kenaf paper, oils, foods, animal bedding, cosmetics, clothing, and insulation.
Kenaf In America
Kenaf is a recent player in American agricultural history, as it caught the attention of the Western world in the 1900s, late compared to its hemp cousin. Kenaf was a critical component of war effort supplies during World War II, which led to its widespread use across the country. The United States is now one of the principal producers of kenaf in the world. Key states include Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Texas. In an attempt to reduce deforestation, the USDA investigated alternative sources of paper and identified kenaf as a promising source. Entire novels have been printed on kenaf paper.
The natural fiber industry is growing year on year, and wider usage of kenaf is fueling that trend.