Alex Odundo's sisal twine
ONE BROAD, POIN TED LEAF plucked from the sisal
plant can earn a Kenyan farmer 5 shillings, or about
$0.05 USD. But the same leaf, processed, spun into
twine and spooled can sell for 100 shillings, or $1.15.
That added value looked like opportunity to Alex
Odundo, a Kenyan engineer and inventor who has
developed three machines to turn sisal into twine.
As a child, Odundo would sit with his mother and
strip off the husk of the sisal leaf by hand. That is
how Kenyan farmers and their families usually process the leaf, if they process it at all. The slow work
inspired the idea to automate the process. Fifteen
years and many prototypes later, with a degree from
Kisumu Polytechnic and a family of his own, Odundo
has developed the machines and he sells them
through his company Sifa Machinery.
Now, he would like to mass produce them and sell
them more cheaply to farmers. Here's a snapshot of
what could be the future of sisal twine production in
SISAL DECOR TICATOR
The decorticator is a cylindrical drum in a frame with
blades that strip the green husk from the sisal leaf
and grind the inner fiber into strands.
It has a five- to six-horsepower motor that can be
either diesel or gasoline powered. The machines cost
$500 to $700 to make, depending on the model, and
Odundo sells them for $850 to $1,200. The prices
should drop with mass production.
SISAL T WINE MACHINE
The twine machine spins the sisal fibers into a thin
twine. It is composed of a 0.5-horsepower electric
motor, a fly arm, bobbin, hub, friction belt and a
smaller feeding motor of 1/16 horsepower. It is small
enough for a farmer to use on the doorstep, Odundo
says. It costs him about $350 to make by hand and he
sells it for $600.
The sisal rope spooling machine packs the spun twine
to prepare it for sale. It can spool different quantities and includes a two-horsepower motor that spins
a couple of rollers. It costs Odundo about $1,000 to
make and he sells it for $1,400.
THE BO T TOM LINE
With one decorticator and two twine machines, a
farmer can grind and spin 120kg of sisal into twine
in eight hours. That amount could sell for $120,
SISAL THE SAVIOR
Odundo has called sisal a savior to Kenya and it's not
hard to see why. The sisal is an agave thought to be
native to the dry Yucutan Peninsula of Mexico, and it
thrives in semi-arid climates. More than half of Kenya
is semi arid. So, a plant like sisal that does not wither
during long droughts really could be a boon to farmers. But only if they can process it efficiently.
“Despite sisal being a potential cash crop, no one
was willing to plant more because of the processing
methods being used. These were labor intensive with
poor-quality products,” Odundo told E4C by email.
Now, small farm holders are planting more and
making more money using this new sisal twine manufacturing equipment, Odundo says.
THE FU TURE OF SISAL T WINE
Odundo has become something of a media sensation
since he presented his decorticator at Maker Faire
Africa in 2010. Since then, he became a TED Fellow in
2012. Moving forward, he has plans to improve
the machines. •
“In the past, farmers were
forced to sell the few sisal
plants that they have along
fences to business men who
BO T TOM
WITH ONE DECORTICATOR
AND TWO TWINE MACHINES, A
FARMER CAN TRANSFORM:
OF SISAL INTO TWINE IN
THAT AMOUNT COULD SELL FOR
ODUNDO SAYS. ALL COSTS
CONSIDERED, THE DAILY PROFIT
OF THE INVESTMENT