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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Kenaf (Hibiscus Cannabinus L.) New Horizons for An Ancient Crop

Author
item Webber, Charles

Submitted to: Kenaf Association International Conference Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: October 2, 2000
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.) is both an Old World domesticated crop and a New World alternative crop. For the last 3000 years kenaf, a warm season annual crop, has been used as a cordage crop to produce twine, rope, and sackcloth. Kenaf was first domesticated and used in northern Africa. India has produced and used kenaf for the last 200 years, while Russia started producing kenaf in 1902 and introduced the crop to China in 1935. In United States kenaf research and production began during World War II to supply ropes for the war effort and developed high-yielding anthracnose-resistant varieties, cultural practices, and harvesting machinery. Then in the 1950's and early 1960's USDA researchers determined that kenaf was an excellent source for cellulose fibers for a large range of paper products (newsprint, bond paper, and corrugated liner board) requiring less energy and chemical for processing than standard wood sources. More recent research and development work in the 1990's has demonstrated the plant's suitability for use in building materials (particle boards of various densities, thicknesses, and fire and insect resistance), adsorbents, textiles, livestock feed, and fibers in new and recycled plastics (injected molded and extruded). To better understand the old and new uses for kenaf, it is important to understand the composition of the kenaf plant, and how the kenaf production, processing, and marketing systems may vary according to how the kenaf plant is used. The purpose of this paper is to provide an introduction and review of the history, production, harvesting, processing, and utilization of kenaf.

Technical Abstract: Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.) is a warm season annual fiber crop closely related to cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) and okra (Abelmoschus esculentus L) that can be successfully produced in a large portion of the United States, particularly in the southern states. As the commercial use of kenaf continues to diversify from its historical role as a cordage crop (rope, twine, and sackcloth) to its various new applications including paper products, building materials, absorbents, and livestock feed, choices within the decision matrix will continue to increase and involve issues ranging from basic agricultural production methods to marketing of kenaf products. These management decisions will require an understanding of the many different facets of kenaf and the reliance on a systems approach that will integrate the production, harvesting, processing, and utilization of kenaf. The successful development and commercialization of kenaf has important potential economic and environmental benefits for the United States. The purpose of this paper is to provide an introduction and review of the history, production, harvesting, processing, and utilization of kenaf.

Last Modified: 7/31/2014
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