Sisal fibre is fairly coarse and inflexible. It is valued for cordage use because of its strength, durability, ability to stretch, affinity for certain dyestuffs, and resistance to deterioration in saltwater. Sisal is used by industry in three grades:
- The lower grade fibre is processed by the paper industry because of its high content of cellulose and hemicelluloses.
- The medium grade fibre is used in the cordage industry for making: ropes, baler and binders twine. Ropes and twines are widely employed for marine, agricultural, and general industrial use.
- The higher-grade fibre after treatment is converted into yarns and used by the carpet industry.
Brazil is the largest world producer of sisal fibre with 130,000 tons/year. Sisal is the only crop that resists the semi-arid climate and which is economically feasible to the poor northeast region of the country where around 800,000 people depend on it. Besides Brazil sisal is also produced in Mexico (45,000 tons/year); China (36,000 tons/year); Tanzania (24,000 tons/year); Kenya (25,000 tons/year) and Madagascar (15,000 tons/year).
Of Brazilian production 70% is exported in the form of raw fibre and manufactured products. The raw fibre is graded as Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3, always double brushed (DB) and crude. There are also some residues commonly sold to the paper and matting industry, such as Bucha (wadding), crude or cleaned, and Refugo (waste) brushed or unbrushed.