January 22, 2009

International Year of Natural Fibres.

The International Year of Natural Fibres was officially launched in Rome today, with the objective to raise the profile of natural fibres, highlight their origin, history, wide range of uses, and value to consumers as well as producers, while devising ways of sustaining natural fibre production and emphasise their environmental benefits in the face of increasing competition from artificial and synthetic fibres. (Wood fibre will be covered during the International Year of Forests in 2011.) Events throughout the year will be organised jointly by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and producers of all manner of natural fibres.

A natural fibre is essentially any elongated substance produced by plants (like cotton seed hairs, flax and hemp stem fibre, sisal leaf fibre, or coconut husk fibre) or animals (wool, hair, or secretions like silk) that can be spun into filaments, threads, or ropes. Fabrics produced from natural fibres have been an essential part of human life as long as agriculture itself, and though the methods employed to produce fabrics have changed over time, their function has remained practically the same. Most natural fibres end up in the clothing, upholstery, containers and other textiles that insulate, soften, and decorate our surroundings. But an increasing amount is employed for industrial purposes as, for instance, components in paper and composite materials — including automobile parts.

Hemp and flax seeds have also been revealed to be rich sources of
omega-3 fatty acids and other valuable nutrients. Hemp oil in particular offers a balanced fatty acid spectrum, while hemp seed provides a reasonably well-balanced protein, significant amounts of vitamin E complex compounds and trace minerals. Its composition, taste, and culinary diversity make hemp oil and seed a promising staple in the growing market of "natural foods".

Apart from traditional and promising new industrial uses, natural fibres are a vital economic resource in numerous regions of the world, the roughly 30 million tonnes produced annually providing an important source of income to those who produce, process, and market them. More often than not the producers are small scale farmers in the world’s so called "developing" countries, hence the sale and export of natural fibres contributes significantly not only to clothing people, but also to maintaining food security and alleviating poverty.

One of the challenges faced by natural fibre producers in the last four decades is the increased competition from artificial and synthetic fibres (like rayon, nylon, acrylic, polyester, or spandex). Therefore, the year's activities also aim to contrast the significant environmental benefits of natural fibre consumption and production with that of synthetic, petrochemical varieties, and promote sustainability by ensuring that these benefits aren't compromised by unsound practices (for instance, a pesticide-intensive crop like cotton currently uses 25% of the world's insecticides and 10% of the world's pesticides).

events will include conferences, exhibits, and fashion shows, with at least one event set to take place in Canada.

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