Versatility of banana leaves

Meghalaya is a state blessed with abundant varieties of horticultural fruits and vegetables. Fruits that grow in the wild have also been domesticated by the local folks of Meghalaya. Out of the various horticultural fruits, banana is widely cultivated.

Are you wondering where Meghalaya is and why we are referring to it? It is one of the 8 states that constitute the northeast part of India and is part of one of the 4 biodiversity hotspots of India. Thanks to this, the land is pristine and home to very many nutrition-rich plants, herbs and spices.

Our land has a lot to offer, farmers are hardworking, over 80% of the population depends on agriculture, yet many are subsistence farmers. Why?  Because most are family farms and reaching their produce to the market is challenging given the undulating terrain of Meghalaya.

Zizira is working to help them realize the potential of the land and improve the livelihood of the farmers we work with. Here is why we do what we do.

About 23% of banana species are cultivated by the farmers of Meghalaya and banana plant is a resource for extracting natural fiber. This article tells you all about banana fiber, about its importance, how it is extracted from the banana plant and how it is used for different purposes.

Each natural fiber has distinctive qualities of its own, by way of color and texture. They are retrieved by shredding, peeling and pounding the plant parts to make threads. They also cut the plant parts to make strips. Tribal communities also use natural fibers to build shelters and thatched roofs. (Source)

Banana leaf

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What Exactly is Banana Fiber?

Banana fiber is eco-friendly just like jute fiber. It is obtained from the pseudostem of the banana plant and is generally scrapped with the help of a knife.

Banana plant can be grown mostly in tropical conditions and thrives mostly in areas with a well-distributed rainfall throughout the year. The soil condition required by the banana plant should be loose, rich in humus and well-drained. There should also be a moderate amount of minerals in the soil.

Almost all the varieties of banana trees are made of fibers and each and every part of the banana plant has fibers of various strength, color and staple length that can be used for purposes.

Out of the 14 to 18 sheaths that are available in the stems, 4 to 6 sheaths yield coarse fiber and the outer 6 to 8 sheaths have soft shiny fibers and the innermost sheaths are the softest. In each of these sheaths, there are 3 distinct layers, the outer layer contains the epidermis and contains bundles of fibers dispersed in soft tissue medium. The middle layer contains water transporting vascular system and the inner layer consist of the soft tissues.

The quantity of the fiber in each sheath depends upon its location in the stem, so is its quality.

In the past, researchers have demonstrated the use of banana pseudo-stem and leaves can be used for extracting fibers on a small scale. In India, the fibers are being used for preparing handicrafts, ropes etc., which otherwise can be used for making fabrics, home furnishings, and good quality papers. The technology for extraction is well-developed in South India and Northeast parts of India has also adopted this technology from the South and has started the production. (Source)

Origin and History of Banana Fiber

Banana is essentially a hot climatic plant and its origin is said to be in the forest of Asia. The plant has now gained importance as a source of fiber. It is known for its use as a multipurpose plant that serves as food, fruit and fodder crop for cattle.

Besides being used for its fruit, its flowers and stems can be cooked, the plant provides fiber for manufacturing clothes, and its leaves are used as natural plates for serving food.

There is a wide variety of historic references to bananas. They are mentioned in ancient Hindu, Chinese, Greek and Roman texts. It is believed that the earliest written reference to banana is in Sanskrit and dates back to around 500 BC. Bananas are suspected to be the first fruit in the earth by some horticulturists. The origin of bananas is placed in Southeast Asia, in the jungles of Malaysia, Indonesia or Philippines, where so many varieties of wild bananas still grow at present. (Source)
banana plantation

How is Banana Fiber Extracted?

The banana fiber is extracted from pseudo-stem of the banana plant. The most common method practiced in most Indian villages is the method of hand scrapping.

In this method, a metal blunt is used for scrapping the stem. However, there is a drawback in this method as the output is relatively low. Now there are machineries for a Banana Fiber Separator that extracts the fibers from the banana pseudo-stem sheaths.  In countries such as like Philippines, Uganda, China, and Indonesia a systematic extraction of banana fiber is carried out.

The process includes cutting down of the banana plant, then the trunk is peeled and the brown-green skin is thrown away only retaining the white portion. The white portion is processed into knotted fibers.

The fibers are extracted through hand extraction machine composed of either serrated or non-serrated knives. The peel is clamped between the wood plank and knife and hand-pulled through, removing the non-fibrous material. The extracted fibers are sun-dried which whitens the fiber. Once dried, the fibers are ready for knotting. To knot the fiber, each fiber is separated and knotted to the end of another fiber manually. This fiber can now be used for making various products. (Source)

What are The Characteristics of Banana Fiber?

According to research, it is indicated that the structure and properties of Banana fibers depend on different regions along the length and across the thickness of the truck. Here are a few characteristics of the banana fiber:

  • Appearance of banana fiber is similar to that of the bamboo and ramie fiber.
  • Chemical composition of the banana fiber includes lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose. It is a very strong fiber.
  • It has smaller elongation as compared with other fibers.
  • It has a lustrous appearance when it is extracted and it is lightweight with potent and fast moisture absorption, as well as releasing, capacity.
  • The fiber is biodegradable and has no negative impact on the environment and thus can be categorized as an eco-friendly product.

Versatile Utility of Banana Fiber

  • Banana fiber is spun into yarns which make it perfect for packing material. Its solidity is sufficient and better than jute textures. The color of the inner fibers is also superior which makes it suitable for value-added fashion.
  • Banana fiber is also used for making ropes and cordage. It is resistant to sea water and has a natural buoyancy which makes it readily marketable. The fiber is used for making wall drilling cables, fishing nets, mats etc.
  • The banana fiber can also be made into garments, curtains, bedsheet, towels etc. as it has the good luster and moisture absorption property.
  • Beside this, it is also used to produce a variety of items such as hats, photo frames, trinket, boxes, gift bags, picture frames, handbags, belts, baskets, and sandals.

How is Banana Fiber Used in Japan?

Folks who are living in regions with diverse climates and harsh terrains make the best use of whatever resources are available.

Natural fibers are one such resource that the local folks are using to create architectural homes, shelters, suspension bridges, fences and smaller objects such as baskets, mats and hand fans.

Fibers that are extracted from edible banana plant is used as a fiber weaving cloth called bashofu. This cloth is a smooth, soft and stiff, it is widely used in making the traditional Japanese kimono.

The craft of extracting fiber from the banana plant, spinning it in the yarn and weaving it into cloth and patterning the cloth was highly valued of the Okinawa Islands. (Source)

From all these citations, it is clear that banana fiber has great potential for making eco-friendly packaging materials, textiles and other miscellaneous items that we can use in our daily lives.

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Hari Behl

Hari Behl

Good article. We are trying to assist NE farmers to get into Alternate fiber. They would need support to market their products. It requires support from various resource persons. I am sure persons like yourself can do a lot. Thanks

Kristy Shangpliang

Kristy Shangpliang

Thank you for your confidence in us :)

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