Burlap for Enrichment

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Enrichment is a term we use for something that enhances the quality of our lives. Can something as simple as burlap make our lives better by producing opportunities to create, solve problems, or feel enthusiasm and happiness? A fabric with texture gives a unique feel and look that can inspire art, the natural durability makes it functional and abundant in our environment, the myriad of uses gives us the unlimited potential for invention. Often, we learn about ourselves while studying other animals and zoological parks have been using burlap for the daily enrichment of different animal species for years.


Satu is an orangutan at the San Diego Zoo and a couple of years ago was part of the effort for zookeepers to find ways to increase the physical and mental capabilities of captive animals. Enrichment in zoos involves anything you can give an animal that might stimulate curiosity and interest for any length of time. Satu found he enjoyed putting a piece of burlap over his head. His roommates, Indah and Karen liked to completely cover themselves in burlap while lying in a hammock and clutching a burlap bags with their feet while somersaulting. The choice to try burlap is not random.

Animals on exhibit are limited to items that are natural in appearance and hard to destroy. Orangutans and other apes are intelligent, strong, and creative. It is important that things being introduced to their enclosures cannot hurt them, be easily destroyed, or used as a tool for mischief. Other objects that fit this category are pinecones, palm fronds, gourds, and bamboo. They resemble matter and smells found in their natural habitat to bring out positive, normal behaviors. Burlap and palm fronds both act as tools for rain and sun protection. They also need strong materials to build a nest or bed every night. Burlap, straw, and cardboard work very well.

The material needs to mimic a natural function or purpose and kindle an instinct. At the Los Angeles Zoo, a lion lived to a ripe old age of 23 with surprises left in cardboard boxes containing things like burlap bags filled with straw bedding from an antelope exhibit. The smell of the natural prey captured his interest and the straw and burlap retained a scent encouraging play by rubbing, rolling and biting the toy, and inviting other lions to the game.

When it comes to zoos, much money is spent on saving species from extinction, veterinary care, and elaborate exhibits. By comparison, investing in organic materials to stimulate activity and happiness, is extremely inexpensive but carries a great benefit. Boredom is the biggest issue for these animals and enrichment is vital. A textured, tough, natural, and inexpensive fabric like burlap becomes a way to amuse, puzzle, distract and challenge the mind.blog2-bear

Between burlap prints and product designs, the look and feel of textured burlap embellishments on clothing, furniture, bags, shoes, and other functional merchandise, it is clear that burlap enriches the human world and spirit as well.

Technology Advancements Will Increase Sisal Fiber Demand

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blog-1 Sisal fiber – plant fibers including jute, flax, and hemp – has been increasing in demand for industrial uses. Applications for automotive, construction, marine and renewable energy range from composite materials reinforcements to strengthening recycled paper.

Sisal, combined with polyurethane, forms a material called “resin moldings” being used in linings and structural components for car interiors. These plant fiber-based trim parts, panels, seat backs, and shelves reduce vehicle weight, consume less energy to produce, and cost less that other materials.

Aside from the composite parts, sisal buffing cloths are popular since they are strong enough to polish steel and soft enough not to scratch it. Mercedes-Benz uses the composite in its C-class production at their facility in South Africa, and Daimler-Chrysler group enjoys better sustainability ratings as well as employment ratings when sourcing sisal from local producers.

It makes sense that the sisal-reinforced composite materials are also beginning to be used in boats and other forms of transportation by replacing the conventional polymer composite fibers with sisal as reinforcement in plastic water tanks, portable toilets, casings and storage containers.

Greater mechanical properties and anti-moisture qualities make sisal fibers an excellent option for reinforcing composite building materials such as fiberglass, rubber, and cement. They can substitute wood products, particle and insulation boards, and corrugated roofing sheets. Sisal-reinforced cement used in roofing sheets and tiles is environmentally friendly, unlike asbestos fibers, known to be carcinogenic.

The Indian Railways are testing applications for composites to manufacture doors, luggage racks, panels, partitions and seating along with packaging materials for boxes, bags, and other containers, usually made of wood.

Sisal and other natural plant fibers such as jute are widely used in geotextiles to prevent soil erosion and establish vegetation on banks and slopes. They are bio-degradable which is a property synthetic fibers such as polypropylene, polyester, and PVC lack. Products include separators, containers, filters for drainage, silt fencing, tension membranes and other forms of lining road sub-base and asphalt overlays. In these, sisal stands a better chance than other natural fibers, when it comes to durability. Geotextiles using sisal or other natural fibers could be two to five times cheaper than the synthetic polymer counterparts.

Sisals high strength-to-tear ratio makes it a great fit for the paper industry where the fibers are used to strengthen pulp from non-wood sources, soft and hardwoods, as well as recycled paper. Sisal fibers make especially durable carpets and rugs, an ingredient of human food and animal feed, cosmetics and

By-products from sisal extraction can be used for making biogas. A biogas power plant has been established at Hale by Katani Ltd in Tanzania. Bacteria in cow dung interacts with crop residues to create biogas then used to generate electricity, fuel for transport and farm machinery, and cooking and lighting. Waste from this process is high in nitrogen, potassium, and calcium and is sold as fertilizer for the next generation of sisal crops. Sisal continues to be a relevant product around the world

Looking Forward to Using Burlap in the Fall

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Plant fiber products like burlap come in handy for every season and, between yard work and holiday decorations, the fall is no exception.

Leaves and Yard Debrisfall-burlap

The leaves will be falling soon and once you’ve raked or blown them into a pile you’ll need to bag and transport them to another area of the yard, set them out to the curb for seasonal pickup, or haul them away yourself with a truck or trailer. Either way, burlap and canvas tarps are heavy duty fabric designed to take the abuse of dragging leaves and debris from one point to another. If you are headed for a compost pile out back, you may want to use the tarp to keep it covered until it has time to decompose.

Plant Protection

Plants and tender crops can use a little frost protection at night with lighter weight burlap cloth that is removed during the day. Fall is also the time to plant larger trees and bushes while they are dormant. Tree roots are wrapped in burlap when waiting for planting. The fabric can stay on to decompose in the ground later. Wrapping the bottoms of small tree trunks can protect them from mice and rabbits burrowing around the roots or simply build a barricade using burlap attached to stakes placed in the ground around the plant. Barriers and screens can block cold winds as winter approaches, just be sure to give plants room to breathe.

Treated and Non-Treated Burlap

In the yard, use non-treated, lower grade, easily biodegradable burlap to keep unnecessary chemicals away from plants and animals especially for any burlap going into the ground. Tarps and sacks for transporting debris can be treated because you need them to resist rips, tears, rotting, and repeated wetting and drying.

Chemicals used:

  • Copper Sulfate is used for wrapping root balls in nurseries. It slows the growth of the roots. It is not a good idea to reuse them.
  • Flame retardants are used in commercial environments because burlap is very flammable, some are non-toxic and also inhibit fungus and mold.
  • Organic and inorganic dyes give color for decorative uses. This is usually higher quality burlap made for design and craft projects.

Seasonal Decoratingfall-burlap-1

Burlap is easy to print, stamp or monogram for the holidays and fall themes. Buy a handful of stamps with autumn designs and get out some colorful paint. Pumpkins, gourds, and garlands look warm and inviting when sitting on a burlap tablecloth or runner created with your own ideas.  Wrap candles and mason jars to fill with treats. Try covering bowls and vases to fill with ornaments or dried flowers for centerpieces. Burlap garlands, wreaths, and welcome signs can sit out on the front porch. Need a new idea for wrapping gifts? Try decorating plain burlap bags, or accenting presents with burlap ribbon and handmade bows to add texture to your parties, birthdays, or holidays. Getting ready for fall can be fun.

The History of Jute

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The heart of the Jute trade is in Bangladesh and West Bengal, due to its naturally fertile soil. In the mid-1500s to early 1600s, the poor rural people of India handmade their jutjutee clothing, rope, twine, and macramé hangers. Chinese papermakers selected plants like hemp, silk, jute, and cotton for papermaking. Flax and hemp were preferred in the spinning industries in Europe and America until jute was taken to Europe by the Dutch and Fre nch and then on to Britain by the East India Company.

By the 1790s, a larger business was developing in the Scottish city of Dundee. Jute was difficult to process mechanically until a revolutionary process for batching it with whale oil and water along with a modified spinning machine for flax and jute was developed.

Mr. George Auckland, a coffee planter, built the first power-driven spinning machines in Bengal on the bank of the Hooghly river near Calcutta in 1855 at the Wellington Jute Mills. The opening of nearby coal mines in 1854 created the necessary power for the machinery. Other jute mills followed on the Hooghly river and it became the biggest jute manufacturing center in the world; able to produce faster and cheaper with new technology.

Largely due to political unrest and war, Russian production of raw flax and hemp to Dundee slowed and jute became the alternative. British Jute Barons in Bengal overtook the Scottish jute trade then and it became an integral part of the Bengali culture and economy.

Jute sandbags and sacks were exported from Bengal globally to protect soldiers in trenches and carry food grains during World Wars I and II. After the wars, jute trade continued with traditional uses in packaging and carpet backing in larger volumes. It was used to bag cotton and coffee, for fishing, construction, art, and arms industries.

After 1960, raw jute and jute product demand reached its highest point and suppliers from Bengal couldn’t meet the need. Synthetics like nylon and polyethylene took over and the industry declined. In the 1970s, many jute mills were seized by the government to eventually create the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation.

By the 1980s, farmers in Bangladesh burned unsold crops but maintained smaller local supplies. Many jute exporters began to diversify. The largest jute mill in the world, Adamjee Jute Mills, closed in Bangladesh and the second largest mill, Latif Bawany Jute Mills, was taken over by the government.history-of-jute

Since 2004, the jute market has recovered and pricing of raw jute increased over 500 percent. Jute has various uses as natural fibers are determined to be more environmentally safe than the substitutes and certain technology advancements have made them desirable in new industries such as non-woven textiles, composite wood materials, and geotextiles.

Nearly 75 percent of jute goods are used as packaging materials, burlap, gunny fabric, and various bags. Carpet backing is about 15 percent, and the rest are yarns, cording, felts, padding, twine, ropes, decorative cloth, and heavy duty industrial items.

Finding Recycled Jute, Burlap, or Sisal Bags for Home and Commercial Use

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Jute plant fibers are largely used to make burlap material and sisal is another common term for plant fiber based fabric. It can be bought new, but is often reused because of its natural durability. Using recycled material always makes sense, but sometimes it is difficult to locate a place to buy them. In the case of recycled jute, burlap, or sisal bags like those used for coffee, peanuts, and other agricultural products, it doesn’t have to be.


Your first step is a Google search. Look for repurposed, reclaimed, recycled, scrap, seconded, junked, or even salvaged burlap sacks. You will find a long list of manufacturers, distributors, coffee houses, recycling companies, fabric companies, and even listings on Amazon and Ebay. There are companies that will sell one bag for .30 each or send bulk packaged bags that have been cleaned for reuse or listed as damaged or torn in some way. Depending on how you intend to use them, the condition may or may not matter.

Common uses include:

  • Making fashion accessories like purses, belts, ties, or vests
  • Creating Halloween costumes
  • Gardening, soil erosion, and weed control
  • Re-upholstering furniture, pillows, and lampshades
  • General storage, containers for small parts or supplies
  • Using for mattress or pillow filling
  • Insulating in construction or packing material for shipping
  • Making unique gift bags
  • Filling with sand as sandbags for retaining walls or flooding
  • Framing attractive bags with manufacturer logo designs as wall art
  • Lining the back of your truck bed before loading heavy parts, equipment, and tools
  • Creating both indoor and outdoor rugs and curtains for privacy and shade
  • Temporary fence filler for privacy or windbreaks
  • Protective coverings for outdoor furniture and plants
  • Covering or moving warehouse itemsrecycled_burlap

There are many ways to use recycled burlap bags, limited only by your imagination. They have a unique texture and are very strong. They can be treated to last longer outdoors, but being biodegradable and reusable makes them appealing. They have attractive manufacturer stamped designs or you can embellish them for quick and easy artwork. Some coffee and produce distributors will give them away which provides even more incentive to give them a try. Locate local businesses and ask.

Whether you are a homeowner using smaller decorative bags as pots for plants on the back deck or a business using large heavier bags to slide hefty equipment across the warehouse floor, today’s economy demands some smarter choices. If you are eco-conscious, an avid gardener or crafter, or need to get a garage or shed organized, this is the answer. Recycled jute, burlap, or sisal bags make perfect sense and are just a Google search away.

Do you have uses that are not shared on the list above? Leave a comment with your ideas so others can try it too.



Burlap: Practical and Decorative Uses Outdoors

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As the hot summer months begin, thoughts turn to the yard and garden.  Burlap really comes in handy for mid-summer heat. It has practical uses in the garden and decorative uses in outdoor living spaces.

Functional Uses


The sun’s heat can quickly dehydrate the ground and the summer rains can wash the dry soil away from newly planted seeds. Laying a piece of burlap over the seeds makes them develop much faster by holding in moisture after watering. Many vegetable and herb starter seeds prefer moist conditions like carrots, chervil, and parsley. When the seedlings begin to emerge from the soil, it is time to remove the burlap.

Sometimes deer, rabbits, and other critters are a problem, but building a burlap fence roughly two feet high around their favorite plants will deter them. Some plants, like blueberry bushes, can be wrapped in burlap to keep grazing animals away. Wrapping is more commonly done in the winter to protect plants from cold winds especially those not typically native to colder areas like figs and hydrangeas.

Burlap also comes in handy to protect the root balls of plants while moving and replanting them. Burlap can be wrapped around the root ball to hold the soil in place. If plants cannot be transplanted right away, the root ball can be kept wrapped in burlap until planting time to keep the roots safe from the elements and retain moisture. Small pieces of burlap in the bottoms of pots keep the soil in while still letting water drain.

One of the best uses for burlap is as mulch. When harvesting the garden is done, a piece of burlap can cover the soil until you plant something else. It will limit erosion of the soil you have worked hard to build.

Decorative Uses

Burlap can be found in most fabric stores and is inexpensive so why not use it for crafts and décor too?

It can be used for embellishing outdoor living areas. Exterior curtains made of burlap are durable in all types of weather and can provide privacy from neighbors. Large rolls of burlap can be cut into shapes for mounting on poles or frames to provide shaded areas on the patio or in the yard. You can create fabric screens yourself or order them hemmed and ready to mount or hang.

Burlap cushion and pillow covers accent your outdoor furniture with a rustic look while table cloths and runners are inexpensive additions to a picnic table when expecting guests or just for fun.garden2

Organize your garden shed or potting area with a burlap wall hanging complete with pockets to store tools, seed packets, or plant labels.

A burlap gardening bag makes a sturdy bag to carry garden tools or freshly harvested herbs and vegetables.

Remember, burlap is made from natural plant fibers and is safe to use in vegetable gardens as well as areas where pets and children play. Burlap goes from functional to fun!

Burlap and Canvas Shade Screens for the Summer

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The applications of shade screen fabrics like jute and cotton based canvas and burlap are endless. Shade mesh is commonly used in agricultural and home garden settings to protect plants from over-exposure to the sun while allowing rain to seep through. It provides sun, shade, and wind protection.

If you are regularly setting-up and taking down a temporary shade tent, a shade screen can be a more permanent part of your yard and landscaping. They come in a variety of sizes and colors and can even be custom ordered to fit your specific situation.

At Homecanvas shade

Shade screens are useful for patio settings, especially in summer weather when we want to be outside but not exposed to extreme heat or damaging rays of the sun. They help decrease the temperatures inside your home by blocking direct sun and heat from the windows. Creating comfortable shade also increases privacy above and around a pool area. Applications at home include:

  • Play Areas
  • Gazebo Covers
  • Screened-in Porches
  • Umbrellas


Heavier tarps come in handy when camping to create clean space on the ground, shelter from above, and privacy from other campers. Treated tarps are water repellent and UV resistant in order to handle the elements and are excellent for cargo and equipment covers. These heavier duty cloths offer a wide range of uses, sizes, colors, and weights to suit your needs. They are simple to install and take down.

Pets and Livestockcanvas shade1

A roll of burlap or canvas provides protection all year for shade and shelter from the wind for outdoor pets in dog runs and kennels, small animal cages, chicken coops, or shade houses in pastures for livestock. As rugged as these fabrics are, you can easily mend a tear or fraying edges with waterproof fabric cement quickly.

Athletic Fields

Outdoor shade cloth rolls are often used in tennis courts and other athletic fields to shade the spectators, dugouts, bleachers, and to line the fencing for wind-block. Aside from heat and sun protection, custom shapes like sails, along with choices of colors, provides aesthetic appeal.

Canvas and burlap sails are breathable UV rated shades to block harmful UVA and UVB rays and continue to allow air to circulate. These shades allow rain to pass through and water will not collect or pool. Rolls, triangles, and squares can be ordered already prepared for mounting.

Proper Care

With proper tarp and shade screen maintenance, they can last for several years. This material is made of naturally strong fiber. When tears do develop, they need to be repaired as soon as possible to prevent spreading. If a tarp is not pitched correctly, long-term exposure to water can lead to mold and mildew. Use a finish coating for canvas that inhibits mildew growth and has UV protection.

When a tarp is not being used, wipe it down and wait until it’s completely clean and dry. Store in a dry place, away from outside elements to increase its lifespan.

Sheet Mulching with Burlap

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Sheet mulching is a great way to convert any grassy or weed-riddled area into a rich garden bed by layering compostable material over the area and allowing it to sit for several months.  This mimics nature’s organic cycle of accumulating fallen leaves that decompose over time, untouched, blocking out sunlight to prevent weeds from sprouting. It is also a wonderful landscaping technique.

Large burlap bags, especially coffee bags, work well for this job.  The burlap coffee bags generally come from Guatemala, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Mexico, among other areas, and are offered to gardeners from distributors and retailers for reuse. Use them as a first layer in the sheet mulch process to:burlapgarden

  • Suppress weeds
  • Eliminate the need to till soil
  • Increase nutrients and retain water
  • Boost the population of healthy microbes and earthworms
  • Intensify soil fertility
  • Create better disease resistance
  • Maintain a garden without chemicals

There are some variations regarding how to sheet mulch effectively, but the basic ingredients include:

  • Large burlap bags
  • mulch
  • organic waste such as manure, plant material, and vegetable peels

Mow or cut down all existing plants that you don’t want to keep and pile them on top of the site. Begin by adding a layer of manure if you want to get a quick start with decomposition. This is full of micro-organisms to break down vegetable matter.

Soak the area well with water along with your natural fiber burlap bags. Lay the bags out to block sunlight out. The material will still allow air and water to flow through freely. Let them overlap just a little to be sure there are no breaks in between unless going around existing plants you intend to keep. These plants will need an opening around the root crown for air circulation.

More compost goes on top of the burlap to feed new and existing plants. If this is a decorative mulch bed without plants, you can skip this part.

Add three to five inches of mulch. This can include compost, grass clippings, seaweed, small branches from pruning, wood chips, or straw. However, most people prefer the look of wood chips or pine straw for the top layer.

You are ready for new plants or seedlings along with some garden soil. As mulch biodegrades, you will have to add more to protect the soil and maintain the appearance. Your plants should thrive with proper watering.

Burlap is a jute fiber product that has been around for ages. Untreated burlap is chemical free and safe for the environment because it is made from the jute plant. Sheet mulching is just one way to use it in landscaping and around the house.

Did you Know?

  • Beekeepers burn burlap to produce a long lasting and hypnotic smoke to calm bees.
  • Layers of newspaper can be added underneath the burlap to further prevent growth.
  • Leftover burlap sacks can be used to store dry materials, but be sure not to create a home for pets and wild critters.

Gardening with Burlap

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gardenIf you are a fan of a natural looking garden, take a look at burlap for inspiration to recreate your surroundings outdoors. When you purchase plants, trees and shrubs from stores, their root balls are protected with burlap for a very good reason. The burlap will biodegrade over time so you don’t need to remove it when planting; roots will grow right through it, worms will devour it along with other nutrients in the ground, and eventually it will disappear.

You can use larger burlap bags under a layer of dirt and mulch in flower beds to deter weeds and protect newly planted seeds or seedlings. You can line the inside of stone, brick, and wood retaining walls to deter weeds from creeping through and the dirt from staining your landscape designs. Cover compost materials with burlap to encourage faster decomposition of food scraps and leaf piles and create richer soil. Burlap is lightweight, keeps your garden looking clean, and allows versatility to relocate your plants if you want to change it up a little.

Used burlap bags can be found in markets that sell vegetables, fruits, and coffee as well as agriculture distribution outlets and both are more than willing to give them away for reuse. Smaller bags can be used like pots to fill with soil and plants or seedlings intended for a patio or boutique style garden. They can be nurtured and then moved to a more permanent home. The burlap allows drainage and aeration to prevent roots from rotting while still maintaining a level of moisture. Put a small drain pan underneath and you can bring them indoors during extreme heat or bad weather.

Some people use them for smaller gardening endeavors like hanging a bag of strawberries or tomatoes above ground and away from ants while providing a view of cascading berries by leaving holes for branches to escape here and there.  Potatoes grow well in bags on the ground making them easier to find when ready to harvest. Attaching bags to wire fencing can create a vertical garden when stacked on top of each other if you need to save space. The bags may only last a year, but if you are planting annually, or moving plants to a permanent location once they grow, no problem.

Vegetables that do well in burlap bags include peas, cucumbers, lettuce, and peppers. Fruits that work best are the kind that produces berries. Herb gardens work especially well and fresh herbs like thyme, cilantro, parsley, or rosemary make your favorite dishes in the kitchen taste amazing. Not only are your plants on display and within reach, but the bags themselves have interesting stamped labels and rustic decorative appeal.garden1

If you are the creative type and enjoy gardening, burlap is worth a try and lends a soft, natural touch to your environment. Going green in the garden just makes sense and there are few products out there noted for being inexpensive, harmless to nature, and aesthetically pleasing all in one.


Inexpensive Erosion Control in Developing Countries

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erosion3Soil erosion is a major concern all over the world. It may be a slow process that continues over time unnoticed, or a faster-paced disaster causing detrimental loss of topsoil. From Afghanistan, India, Nepal to Tibet, technologies preventing, mitigating or stopping soil erosion is a combination of learning to replace indigenous plants, make structural changes, and adopting new agricultural measures.

Damage caused by heavy soil erosion is often irreversible so it is important to be proactive and take conservation measures prior to events like flooding, drought, landslides, and roadside erosion. Developed countries have been increasingly aware of the use of natural plant fibers creating biodegradable fabrics or matting (made of jute, burlap, and coir) to pin exposed soil in place until foliage and new landscaping features can provide more permanence to unstable and sloping areas of land. Sharing these very inexpensive solutions with other countries help their development and economy.

As countries develop they alter the landscape as the population expands and the land is used more intensely. Without erosion control, soil can be destroyed as rainfall dislodges soil, reduces soil fertility, clogs rivers with sediment, and ruins the quality of drinking water. The land is unable to recharge groundwater levels, flooding issues occur, and urban and rural communities suffer.

Modern thinking aims to correct poor agriculture practices, the abuse of natural fields and forests, and improper irrigation and drainage systems in developing countries through simple landscaping practices such as contouring and terracing. The use of fibrous matting, rolls, and sandbags can prevent soil movement whether foliage repopulates naturally or through deliberate means.

Climate change and land use mismanagement have created serious disasters in tropical locations devastated by storms on steep grades causing landslides, flooding, building destruction, loss of life and serious economic issues. The aftermath of earthquakes is unstable slopes that result in major sediment flowing into rivers and streams, destabilization of levees and dykes, roadway and bridge erosion.

Coastal erosion in areas of Asia and other countries in the Indian Ocean are mostly natural processes caused by various weather elements, along with population growth and poorly managed economic development near the coastlines. This type of erosion is common in Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.

erosion4Between nature and human intervention mangrove loss is making coastal areas more susceptible to erosion. Man compounds the natural erosion effects of fires, hurricanes, tidal waves, storms and natural erosion cycles of changing sea levels with logging, land cultivation, aquaculture, and salt ponds as well as urban construction and development stripping the soil.


In developing countries, soil erosion eventually affects the livelihoods of the communities that face difficulties in sustaining their farms and have to look for work alternatives. Teaching about causes of soil erosion and the uses of fibrous matting, rolls, and sandbags can keep these countries more economically stable. Proper erosion control efforts are necessary, very effective, and due to the use of natural plant fibers, very inexpensive.