Banana fibre, also known as musa fibre is one of the world’s strongest natural fibres. Biodegradable, the natural fibre is made from the stem of the banana tree and is incredibly durable. Banana fibre is similar to natural bamboo fibre, but its spin ability, fineness and tensile strength are said to be better. Banana stem, hitherto considered a complete waste, is now is now being made into banana-fibre cloth which comes in differing weights and thicknesses based on what part of the banana stem the fibre was taken from. The innermost sheaths are where the softest fibres are obtained, and the thicker and sturdier fibres come from the outer sheaths. Made up of thick-walled cell tissue and bonded by natural gums, banana fibre is similar to natural bamboo fibre but its fineness and spin ability are better bamboo and ramie fibres. It is mainly composed of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin.
Historically, banana stems had been used as a source of fibre with the earliest evidence dating to the 13th century. But its popularity faded after other convenient fibres such as cotton and silk were made popular. For centuries, banana fibre textiles were made in Japan and Nepal. In Japan, banana fibres were a prized substitute for silk and were traditionally woven into ceremonial garments for the wealthy. In both Nepal and Japan, the outermost sheaths of the banana plant were used for making cloth that was not intended for articles of clothing. Coarser banana cloth was used for place mats, floor mats and sun shades. Initially, people in Japan and Nepal realised that except for the fruit, the complete banana tree is cut and thrown as a waste. After exploring the tree, they figured out that the stalk can be used to make strong ropes.
India has the largest land under banana cultivation in the world followed by Brazil, contributing about 30 per cent of the total world production. Among the fruits, banana holds first position in production and productivity in India. Maharashtra is the leading banana producing state. Banana fibre has an affinity to colours that makes it easier to weave attractive designs with it. The process maybe cumbersome but saris fabricated from this fibre are very comfortable and are in much demand. These saris are very comfortable to wear and have a cooling effect. They are supplied to both national and international markets where there is good demand. National Research Centre for Banana in Tamil Nadu is carrying out a study and if the proposition turns viable, the country can soon expect the domestic market to be flooded with an array of banana fibre textiles and garments.
- Natural sorbent: Fabric from theses fibres lets you breathe well and will keep you cool on hot days.
- Soft, supple and shimmer: Banana fabric is soft and supple, though not quite as soft as cotton or rayon. Nearly all plant stem-based fibres are a little more stiff and coarse than cotton or rayon. Its natural shimmer makes it look a lot like silk.
- Comfort: Banana fibre clothing is comfortable and not likely to trigger allergies.
- Resistance: It is grease-proof, water-, fire- and heat-resistant.
- Durability: Even if the banana fabric is made from the tough outer sheath, it is not as strong and durable as any fabric like hemp, bamboo, or other natural fibre.
- Insulation: It is not particularly insulating.
- Spin ability and tensile strength: It is better than other organic fibres in terms of spin ability and tensile strength.
There is some good news concerning banana cultivation worldwide. There is rising consumer awareness in many places concerning labour disputes, political and environmental issues surrounding banana cultivation. Increasingly, there is an international effort to rotate bananas with other crops and to use organic growing methods. The history of labour practices and profit distribution related to banana cultivation has been contentious in Central America, but the same set of political controversies have not existed in other banana-growing places like India and China. There are also growing international efforts to ensure a better payment rate given to local banana producers in Fair Trade agreements. As bananas are mostly grown in small family farms in India and in Caribbean, the use of chemical fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides on small farms is usually minimal. Unlike banana cultivation on small family farms, large corporate plantations have a poor record concerning environmental impact and social responsibility. Corporate cultivation is basically a furious race to shore up the earnings from bananas. That involves a lot of chemical use in the growing process, which has greatly damaged the environment and caused terrible health problems for people living in places where large corporate-owned banana plantations exist.