Stinging nettles, also known as meleye (pokot), siwat (kapsigis), thaa (Embu/ Meru), thabai (Kikuyu) is a weed which grows liberally on the slopes of Mt. Kenya might just prove to be formidable force reckon with. Consumers across the globe are demanding eco-friendly, organic products of better standards than what is currently out there – presenting stinging nettle; an erect perennial herb which contains elastic thin fibers within its stalks.
Stinging nettles do not need lots pesticides, insecticides or herbicides (after all they are a form of herb) to be able to grow commercially. They do not require fertilizer application but rather their waste products can be used as fertilizer for crops such as tomatoes that require lots of minerals and high protein content.
The stinging nettle fibers have great tensile strength, have an average of 4metres and are fine, these properties allow for the production of fabrics and technical applications. The fibers also have a flame retarding properties – i.e. they naturally reduce fire hazards.
What does all this mean for a country like Kenya?
- Expanding our agro-products: countries in Europe are already making clothes from stinging nettle one of the problems they face is a willingness from local farmers to grow the plant. This provides new opportunities for Kenyan farmers who often grow the same products for the local market which leads to over saturation of produce example cabbages, causing farmers to sell produce for much less than they had planned for.
- Diversifying our market-based economy: our textile industry needs to be revived. Growing our own fibers, then building factories which will in turn transform the raw products into quality, sophisticated, comfortable and practical apparels both for the local and international markets. Besides Kenyans work hard and expect value for money for products that are affordable and NOT SECOND HAND!
- The fiber’s fire retarding properties can be applied in all sorts of industries. Examples; the electronics industry, in computers (connectors, plastic covers, cables etc.), plastic covers of television sets, carpets, pillows, paints, curtains, upholstery, and domestic kitchen appliances etc. we can carve a niche for ourselves and export these organic versions of these products, currently harmful artificial chemicals are being added to consumer products to meet states’ flammability standards which end up in waterways, wildlife and even human breast milk.
- Stinging Nettle waste products (i.e. after fiber extraction) can be used as organic fertilizer and herbicides this means farmers will end up with purely organic products. The World organic market is growing fast in countries like US, Europe and South Africa, an under-supply of organic fruits and vegetables exists, yet again another niche. Organic farming will also be beneficial to the farmers who are often exposed to harmful to their health chemicals.
- Jobs, Jobs, Jobs… need I say more? Factories that can be set up to process the fibers, production of fabric materials, designers to work into turning the fabrics into classical products and even retailers.
I know this is all sounds like a fairy tale but it really shouldn’t be. The government needs to encourage more RnD into discovering various productions methods, applications and better methods of extracting the fiber from the stalks without damaging the fibers.
We need more daring innovations that will see us becoming trendsetters not followers… just saying