Unemployment and the Kenyan Sisal industry
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This thesis falls into two sections. In thp first part, the author discussed the effect of future developments in the sisal industry on the demand for labour. In Part II, he turns to some labour supply probler~. The authorls survey of the plans of Kenyais sisal estates shows that total sisal production will probably not fall much further during the next five or ten years. It will remain at around 35-40_C)()mOetric tonnes, After examining the future demand for sisal, the author concludes that Kenya will continue to find a market for her output. By producing sisal of a high quality or with particular characteristics (e.g. the extra white fibre which results from artificial drying) Kenya will be able to accommodate herself to a specific portion of the world market for the fibre. Though total world demand for sisal may well diminish in the next decade, it is felt that the specific portion of the market served by Kenya may not. In addition to this, local demand for sisal is increasing and will continue to increase in th~ next decade. Though local manufacturers only require the lower grades of fibre at present, the local market could become very important indeed if a hybrid yielding a finer fibre were developed. This would make Kenya self-sufficient in the raw materials required for the production of gunny sacks. Though several estates, particularly in Central Province will close down their sisal operations in ~he near future, others, particularly in Coast Province may even expand their sisal production over the next few years. TIleauthor examines the reasons for these changes in the geographical location of Kenya's sisal production. He concludes that the Coast Province estates (and, to a lesser extent, those in the Rift Valley Province) have been in a better position to survive the crisis brought about by the price collapse of 1964. He discussed the reasons why prouuction costs might be lower on these estates than on those in Central Province. The author goes on to show how the opportunity costs faced by the sisal farmer in Central Province have almost certainly increased in recent years. The development of the market for fresh horticultural produce in lnillly Europcrui countries, together with recent trends in world beef prices has presenteclthe sisal farmer with attractive alternative uses for his land. In the light of his findings, the author discusses the unemployment problems posed by the change in the geographical location of sisal production. He then goes on to consider two factors which might have a considerable impact on the employment situation even if the industry develops in the ~~er described. Firstly, he considers the possibility of further labour-saving innovation in the industry. The author concludes that the development of a hybrid suitable for farms over 2,000 ft. altitude is the only major innovation likely to have a large effect on production costs in the foreseeable future. Basing his assumptions on the experience with the hybrid 11648, he concludes that the major savings in production costs entailed by the adoption of such a hybrid may not derive primarily from a reduction in labour require ments. The second major determinant of the future demand for labour on estates currently producing sisal will be the diversification projects chosen by these estates. After examining current plans and projects, the author concludes that the ideal solution from the point of view of the farmer may coincide with that of a Government concerned with the elimination of unemployment. Such a solution would seek to maximise the utilization of the fixed capital as well as the large areas of ITarginalland on the estate. In the second part of the thesis, the author examines some questions which arose from his investigations In connection with the first part of the thesis. In chapter 6 he attempts to explain the shortage of cutters reported by several sisal estates. He first examines why this problem is not faced by all estates in the industry. After looking at differences in living conditions, working conditions and remuneration, he concludes that the present method of payment conceals wide variations between estates in the difficulty of cutting sisal. He argues that a method of payment which fails to reflect productivity differences by differences in wages has reduced the effectiveness of market mechanisms. He outlines an alterna tive method of payment .. The author then goes on to explain why there is a shortage of cutters. He shows that sisal workers are drawn from a relatively small "pocket'! of surplus labour and that the fragmentation of the labour market which this implies results from, and is reinforced by, present recruitment methods. He then suggests two reasons why the "reservoi r" from which sisal cutters are drawn might be shrinking. The first concerns the iopportunity costs faced by the potential employee in the ! light of Government settlement policies which stress the eligibility of landless unemployed persons, while the second involves the aspirations of school-leavers. In the final chapter, the author attempts to explain the reluctance of sisal workers to take up new jobs on the estates diversifying their production away from sisal. He concludes that many workers fear a reduction in wages if they accept such a job and he reviews the experience of the workers on one estate which has already ceased sisal production to see if these fears are justified.