Some good news to cheer us up in an atmosphere of heightened, partisan political acrimony and tension: The defunct Komenda Sugar Factory which has been revamped with a US$ 24 million grant, has been inaugurated by President John Mahama.
Another defunct but potentially profitable factory that the government may now turn its attention to is the Kumasi Bast Fibre Bag Factory. The defunct factory used to produce jute sacks for the bagging of cocoa for export and fibre travel bags.
The raw material used for the production of jute sacks and fibre bags is kenaf. Most of the kenaf fibre used by the defunct factory was imported from Bangladesh and Pakistan with scarce foreign exchange.
The discovery of kenaf’s numerous agricultural and industrial uses led to the establishment of the Bast Fibre Development Board (BFDB) in 1970.
After its establishment, the now defunct BFDB embarked on a programme to promote the large-scale production of the crop. One of the strategies involved the provision of research, extension and other support services for the large-scale production of the crop by farmers.
A second strategy was the establishment of the board’s own commercial farms with the largest of the farms sited at Yirede in the Nkronaza District in the Brong Ahafo Region. Other large and medium-scale kenaf farms were established by the BFDB, at Aframso, Tuobodom, Adudwan and Teacher-Krom near Ejura.
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In the Ashanti Region, the board established farms at Mampong, Konongo and Yanchenase. Other kenaf farms were established at Damongo, Zebilla and Tumu in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions respectively.
With a fleet of tractors, haulage trucks, a seed farm and extension staff, the BFDB was initially able to increase the production of kenaf about three-fold.
With the dramatic increase in bast fibre production and level of production by the factory, there were high hopes that the factory would soon produce enough to meet domestic demand and also become a noted exporter of jute sacks and fibre bags will flood the local market.
This did not happen and the reasons are multiple. While the Kumasi Bast Fibre Bag Factory required about 98, 000 metric tonnes of kenaf fibre for maximum production, the combined production output from local farmers and the board’s own farms came up to an annual average of about 6,000 metric tonnes.
After the first decade of operations, many of the Bast Fibre Board’s farm tractors broke down. Tractors had been relied upon for the seasonal ploughing of kenaf farm lands and the decrease in their number drastically limited the acreage of land ploughed annually for kenaf cultivation.
With many of the BFDB’s haulage trucks also broken down, much of whatever local farmers produced were left on farms for long periods.
Kenaf ribbons stripped off the bark of kenaf plants first need to be retted into fibre for the manufacture of bags. The BFDB ,therefore, began a project to construct modern retting tanks at Yapei in the Northern Region for the retting of kenaf into fibre, using water from the Yapei River. Other tanks were built at Aframso to ret ribbons produced in the southern sector.
Unfortunately, out of a total of 100 retting tanks indicated in the Yapei project plan, only 40 were eventually constructed. Most of these stopped functioning after a few years due to various technical difficulties.
There was yet another set back: While the board employed modern retting techniques for retting ribbons from its farms, local farmers still depended on outmoded and cumbersome traditional ribbon retting techniques involving the use of ponds and streams for retting.
With most streams and ponds often drying up in the dry season and the knowledge that the BFDB had no trucks to transport any ribbons they were able to ret, many farmers stopped processing whatever kenaf they produced, into ribbons.
Uses of kenaf
Yet, the potential of Ghana becoming self-sufficient in kenaf production is obvious. The economic value of kenaf is also not limited to the production of sacks and bags.
Kenaf fibre is also used in the production of newsprint, floor carpets, fibre parts for automobiles and cardboard.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, kenaf is cultivated on a commercial scale in at least eight states of the US. The kenaf is used for the manufacture of fibre parts for automobiles, livestock feed, roofing materials, newsprint, burlap, rope, twine, carpets, cardboard, various synthetic fibres and newsprint. More than 20 newspapers across the US are reported to use kenaf-based newsprint.
Newspapers produced from kenaf fibre newsprint are brighter, tougher, easier to read and far less likely to become yellow with time than newspapers produced with other kinds of newsprint, according to research reports.
Another economic advantage of kenaf over other materials used in the production of paper, according to the research, is that with kenaf, about 90 per cent of the original weight of ribbons processed is obtained as fibre, compared with 50 per cent in the processing of wood pulp.
Kenaf grows well on even very poor soils and can be grown almost anywhere in Ghana. Large-scale production of the crop has,however, been limited largely to the Northern, Upper East, Upper West and parts of the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions.
Until its discovery as a versatile industrial crop, kenaf was grown by small -scale farmers in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions along the boundaries of food crops farms to serve as farm boundary fences.
There are two species of kenaf. In the Bawku East and West districts of the Upper East Region, the two species are respectively referred to as “biit” and “bergis.” The leaves of both are eaten as a delicious and nutritious vegetable!