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Introduction

The family Agavaceae (Pita or Maguey) has its origins in Mexico. It is a succulent plant which is mostly known for its fibre (Sisal) and alcoholic spirit (Tequila). Its first usage dates back to the time of the Mayans, when indigenous communities found in this wonderful plant a source of raw material for hundreds of products which have been produced and improved throughout history. In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors brought back different varieties of agave from the Americas to Spain. These plants have flourished, especially along the Mediterranean coast. The 19th century saw the worldwide exploitation of the agave, which originated from the Yucatan in Mexico, taking the form of the extraction of the fibre. The years 1870 to 1930 were known as “The Sisal Boom” years. In many countries where water is a limited resource, the agave has become an essential tool of work, promoting economic development in those areas and significantly increasing the quality of life for millions of families. Renewable energies, organic plastics, sugars, biofuels and car accessories are some examples of new ways in which the agave is being used. The agave has a place in future enlightened “sustainable” economies. It can produce high yields, can grow on arid and semi-arid land, and does not compete with conventional crops for food production. This makes the agave a most promising 21st century crop. The variety of products and by-products made from this plant is awakening an increasing interest worldwide, initiating the creation of sustainable jobs in dry lands all over the planet.

The Name Agave
The name ‘agave’ comes from the Greek word ‘agavos’, which means noble or illustrious. This is the botanic name of the ‘century plant’, commonly known as ‘pita’ or ‘zábila’ in Almería (Spain). Throughout history, countless different names were coined for this ‘plant of the thousand wonders’, e.g., ‘maguey’ (in Mexico), ‘atzavara’ (in Catalunya), ‘sabra’ (in Morocco), ‘k’atscha’ (in Ethiopia), ‘sisal’ (in Kenya), and ‘fui cheng’ (in China).

About the Plant

The agave or pita (or maguey in Mexico) originates from Mexico and makes its home in regions with low rainfall. After thousands of years of evolution, it is perfectly adapted to survive in dry regions, where water and nutrients are scarce. Agave plants require well-drained soils and are very resistant to drought and high temperatures, and can withstand frost – if it is not frequent – down to 27 ºC below zero. There are about 300 different species of these succulent plants, which are characterized by the formation of large rosettes of thick, fleshy leaves. The roots tend to be long to capture as much water as possible. All that water is stored in the leaves as an energy reserve for the blossom. In the plant kingdom, agaves are the most efficient producers of biomass in water deficient conditions. Agaves have different strategies for reproduction: they actively reproduce asexually from the rhizomes of abundant leaves as well as sprouting from seeds and bulbs. The inflorescence is a true spectacle: the flower stem grows up to 1.5m per week, reaching from 1.8m to 12m in height. The stem starts to sprout when the plant has reached the age of between 7 and 30 years. The fruit appears in the form of capsules with numerous flattened black seeds. The rosette, which caused the growth of the floriferous stem, dies after the blossoming.

I. The Flowering and Dying Process of an Agave.

The plant saves water throughout its life and flowers only once in its lifetime. The saved water enables the agave to develop a fast growing and maybe the tallest flower on earth. After its time of flowering, the life of the agave plant ends with the dispersal of its seeds and a hardening of its stem into wood. Follow the whole lifecycle below or watch our video on YouTube

II. The Growing of the Giant Asparagus

The Agave develops a flower stem after 7 years, and sometimes it takes more than 30 years. The flower stem resembles a giant Asparagus which can be, depending on the species, as high as 12 meters and can grow at a rate of up to 1.5 meters per week (14-20 cm a day!).

III. The Evolution of the Flower Bud

After blossoming, the flower dries out and forms a seed pod. The autumnal winds spread the seeds for reproduction and the rains of the winter help them to germinate.

The kernel (known as Piña), which resembles a giant pineapple, is revealed by cutting away the leaves. The revealed kernel contains the highest quantity of sugar which is used for a great variety of bio-products, now produced on an industrial scale. Examples of these products are bio ethanol, a number of drinks and Inulin. Aguamiel, translated into English as “honey water”, can be extracted from plants aged from 6 to 8 years. A big Agave can supply between 8 to 15 liters per day and up to 1000 liters per plant. This nutritive juice contains more calcium than cow milk and a total of 8 Minerals and 4 Vitamins. The extracted Aguamiel can be transformed into a healthy sweetener in the form of Syrup, which contains 70% fructose and 90% carbohydrates. Compared with the sugar obtained from cane or beetroot, it tastes 20% sweeter and can be used by diabetics. The Aguamiel can be fermented for a period of about 10 days after which a traditional Mexican drink named Pulque is produced. This fermented beverage is also known as Agave beer or Agave wine. Pulque has been brewed for at least 2000 years and has been used in ceremonies and rituals throughout the ages. Tequila is the most famous alcoholic beverage produced from A.Tequilana and it is consumed all over the world. Mexico produces more than 200 million liters of Tequila per year and it is one of the biggest and most important economic export products of the country. The purity is controlled by the “Consejo Regulador de Tequila” (CRT). International law states that other kinds of Tequila spirits can only be sold as “Tequila” if they contain at least 51% Agave. Another type of spirit obtained from the Piña is known as Mezcal.

☉ The Roots grow 30 – 40 cm deep into the soil enabling them to easily soak up available rainwater. ☉ Big plants can have roots of 7 to 8 meters in diameter. ☉ When found on hill sides they help protect the land from erosion.

☉ Agave plants have a large rosette of thick fleshy leaves, shaped to collect and carry water to the roots. ☉ Generally, each leaf ends in a sharp point. ☉ The leaves are composed of 2% – 5% of fiber and 95% biomass. ☉ The average life span of a leaf is 10 – 15 years. ☉ Under good conditions an Agave can grow up to 20 leaves per year. ☉ Generally spoken, the leaves are glabrous and contain long fibers, which is an important character for them to be utilized for the production of natural fibers (Sisal). This film has been created by Timbe after visiting an Agave factory for Sisal fiber extraction in Awassa, Ethiopia, in 2008: Watch video on YouTube

☉ The flowers produce abundant nectar which attracts its natural pollinators like birds, bats or insects. ☉ The Agave is a flowering plant which produces capsules at the end of the dry season to increase its reproductive possibilities. ☉ At maturity (beginning of the rainy season), the capsules split apart to release the seeds within. ☉ To secure the reproduction, some varieties reproduce themselves through inflorescence bulbils, which grow on the flower stem up to 12 meters above the ground. ☉ A single A.Sisalana mother plant produces between 1000 to 4000 bulbils to ensure a successful reproductive cycle.

The fast growing wood contains a big potential. It is a gift from the desert. The lifecycle of the agave plant is completed after its time of flowering. The wood is harvested only after the wind has spread the seeds and the plant has completely died. The stem grows very fast, approx. 1,5m per week and up to 12m in height, and as a result of this rapid growth it develops a fibrous but sturdy material with a resistant outside shell similar to that found in bamboo. The wood is very light in weight, really easy to split and work with, and has an exotic appearance with a range of beautiful natural colors. Harvesting at the right time and proper storage conditions are particularly important for the quality of the wood. The dried flower stems are used for the creation of musical instruments and in the making of many other handcrafted items, as well as for roof beams in house construction, scaffolding, stools and ladders. They can even be split and hollowed for use as irrigation line half-pipes for the transport of water. To use the wood, it can only be harvested on the death of the plant. This important fact means that it is a truly sustainable resource from the desert. While deforestation and the destruction of ancient forests continues, seemingly without end, the Agave wood is at least a small contribution in ways out of the worldwide environmental crisis that becomes more evident every day.

Uses

Humans have benefitted from the use of agave since pre-history. It has been particularly important in Mexican indigenous cultures, and also in many other parts of the world. Many products have been created from agaves in the previous 10.000 years. The plant is among the highest in yields of biomass per unit, even higher than cultivated sugar cane plants in the tropical regions of Brazil. The agave is a source of biofuel, biogas and bio-alcohol and also offers a broad variety of side products with increasing industrial potential for the world markets. In this time of climate change and demand for sustainable alternatives to industrial processes, the agave has many environmental, economic, and social benefits which are very important for arid and semi-arid regions of the planet where the majority of the world’s poorest people live. Cultivation of agave in these zones has the potential of transforming lives. Scientific researchers inform us that the agave produces up to three times more sugar than sugar cane grown in Brazil, four times more cellulose than the fastest growing eucalyptus tree, and it captures five times more CO2 than the world’s best carbon capturing ecosystems. When properly maintained, it requires irrigation only three to four times per year. The by-products after the processing of the agave takes the form of bio-degradable organic matter which can be used as “compost” or as organic material to be returned to the land. In this way, they enhance soil fertility. This is truly a “no waste” plant. Industrial production facilities for dozens of bio-products made from the agave have been set up in more than 20 countries worldwide. Tanzania has a Ministry of Agave with more than two and a half million people working with the plant in the country. Tanzanian experts promote its usage as a life insurance plant for farmers. Everything can be used, and the monthly harvest has not failed in the last 100 years! Brazil has six hundred thousand people working with the agave and is the world’s leader in the production of its fibre known as Sisal. China grows ten thousand hectares for bio-plastics, Australia grows forty thousand hectares for the production of bio-fuels and South Africa manufactures door insulation and accessories for Daimler Chrysler. We at the Pita-Escuela have specialized in the integral usage of agave for twenty years. We offer a large repository of scientific information and documentation to teach and spread our knowledge. We can show you different techniques and procedures for the elaboration of various end products made from agave.

Examples of countries where the agave is used as an industrial resource

Principal Uses of the Agave with social-economic and agro-ecologic importanceness

USES PRODUCTS PART OF THE AGAVE
FOODS Fructose syrup, healthy sweeteners, Inulin & Pulque bread Guisos y sweets Barbecue Worms Piña Flower & fruit Flower stem & leave Leaves & piña
DRINKS Aguamiel, atole, pulque, mezcal, tequila, vinager Piña
AGRO-ECOLOGICAL Living fence & soil furtherer Organic fertilizer Whole plant Composted leave & piña
FODDER Animal feedstock Leave & Flower
CONSTRUCTION Fencing, houses, corrals Roof tiles Thermic insulation Channels to collect rainwater Flower stem & leave Leave Flower stem & fiber Leaves
FIBRES Bio plastics, cellulose pulp and paper, rope & twine, baskets, brooms, brushes, geotextiles, carpets, fiber boards, molded furniture Leave fibre
MEDICAL Heals swellings, inner injuries and rheumatism Preventive to cancer & scurvy, reduces inflammation, cures anemia, heals wounds Leave & root Nectar & Pulque
ORNAMENTAL Handicrafts, musical instruments, Furniture Garden centers Flower stem Whole plant
DOMESTIC Soap & shampoo Needle & twine Flower pots, pencil holders, etc. Leave, flower stem & roots Spikes y strand leaves Flower stem & piña
OTHER USES Pharmaceutical & chemical industry, Ethanol (distilled and cellulosic), biogas, jet-fuel, biodiesel, bio coal, bio oil, buthanol, methanol, pellets, adhesive, insulating foam, concrete additive, biopolymers, acids, antifreeze, gel, esters, wax, etc. Whole plant
     

Bookshelf

Our online bookshelf contains a variety of scientific studies, reports and articles from many different projects related to the agave plant and its usage worldwide. Please get in touch with us so that we can share this interesting and useful material!

AGAVE, EL CULTIVO ENERGÉTICO QUE FALTA
AGAVE, EL CULTIVO ENERGÉTICO QUE FALTA
AGAVE, EL CULTIVO ENERGÉTICO QUE FALTA.pdf
272.2 KiB
2349 Downloads
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AGAVE, THE MISSING ENERGY CROP
AGAVE, THE MISSING ENERGY CROP
AGAVE, THE MISSING ENERGY CROP(2).pdf
65.4 KiB
1082 Downloads
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Exploitation Of Agave For Foodsecurity In Swaziland, 2011 Zwane
Exploitation Of Agave For Foodsecurity In Swaziland, 2011 Zwane
Exploitation of Agave for Foodsecurity in Swaziland, 2011_Zwane.pdf
91.0 KiB
696 Downloads
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Nota - Usos Del Maguey
Nota - Usos Del Maguey
Nota - Usos del Maguey.pdf
52.6 KiB
885 Downloads
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1  Tequila Plant Holds Promise As Arid Biofuel Source
1 Tequila Plant Holds Promise As Arid Biofuel Source
1. Tequila plant holds promise as arid biofuel source.pdf
76.4 KiB
507 Downloads
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2  Planta Para Tequila, Promisoria Fuente De Biocombustible
2 Planta Para Tequila, Promisoria Fuente De Biocombustible
2. Planta para tequila, promisoria fuente de biocombustible.pdf
74.5 KiB
632 Downloads
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A Future Of Agave-Fueled Vehicles
A Future Of Agave-Fueled Vehicles
A Future of Agave-Fueled Vehicles.pdf
62.3 KiB
542 Downloads
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Agave Biodiesel Y Tequila
Agave Biodiesel Y Tequila
Agave Biodiesel y Tequila.pdf
47.9 KiB
567 Downloads
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Agave For Tequila And Biofuels An Economic Assessment And Potential Opportunities
Agave For Tequila And Biofuels An Economic Assessment And Potential Opportunities
Agave for tequila and biofuels an economic assessment and potential opportunities.pdf
413.3 KiB
930 Downloads
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Arizona, Energy Farm Of The Future
Arizona, Energy Farm Of The Future
Arizona, energy farm of the future.pdf
118.6 KiB
528 Downloads
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BIOCOMBUSTIBLES DE AGAVE AZUL
BIOCOMBUSTIBLES DE AGAVE AZUL
BIOCOMBUSTIBLES DE AGAVE AZUL.pdf
427.6 KiB
747 Downloads
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Drink It Or Drive It
Drink It Or Drive It
Drink it or Drive it.pdf
72.1 KiB
513 Downloads
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From Tipple To Tank - Tequila Plant May Have Biofuel Future
From Tipple To Tank - Tequila Plant May Have Biofuel Future
From tipple to tank - tequila plant may have biofuel future.pdf
67.0 KiB
478 Downloads
Details...
Global Warming-Resistant Biofuel, Agave
Global Warming-Resistant Biofuel, Agave
Global Warming-Resistant Biofuel, Agave.pdf
65.8 KiB
533 Downloads
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Highlights For Agave Productivity
Highlights For Agave Productivity
Highlights for Agave Productivity.pdf
393.4 KiB
485 Downloads
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In The Future, Ethanol From Agave
In The Future, Ethanol From Agave
In the Future, Ethanol from Agave.pdf
80.6 KiB
534 Downloads
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Mexico – Future Bio-Fuel Energy Leader
Mexico – Future Bio-Fuel Energy Leader
Mexico – Future Bio-Fuel Energy Leader(2).pdf
182.6 KiB
589 Downloads
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Potential of Plants from the Genus Agave as Bioenergy Crops
Potential of Plants from the Genus Agave as Bioenergy Crops
2011_Lauro_Potencial of Plants from the Genus Agave as Bioenergy Crops.pdf
327.7 KiB
504 Downloads
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Sustainable Biofuel Source
Sustainable Biofuel Source
Sustainable Biofuel Source.pdf
57.8 KiB
476 Downloads
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The Global Potential For Agave As A Biofuel Feedstock
The Global Potential For Agave As A Biofuel Feedstock
The global potential for Agave as a biofuel feedstock.pdf
902.6 KiB
608 Downloads
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100 Preguntas Sobre Agave Pulquero
100 Preguntas Sobre Agave Pulquero
100 preguntas sobre agave pulquero.pdf
63.3 KiB
4645 Downloads
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EVERYTHING ABOUT PULQUE
EVERYTHING ABOUT PULQUE
EVERYTHING ABOUT PULQUE.pdf
96.0 KiB
2311 Downloads
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Otro Picudo Seca Las Pitas
Otro Picudo Seca Las Pitas
Otro picudo seca las pitas.pdf
283.4 KiB
621 Downloads
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TESIS TRAMPEO DEL PICUDO DEL AGAVE 2011
TESIS TRAMPEO DEL PICUDO DEL AGAVE 2011
TESIS TRAMPEO DEL PICUDO DEL AGAVE 2011.pdf
1.4 MiB
4099 Downloads
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Bolsas De Bioplástico Con Agave
Bolsas De Bioplástico Con Agave
Bolsas de bioplástico con agave.pdf
236.0 KiB
675 Downloads
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Buying A Sisal Bag Can Make A Real Difference To Africa's Starving Millions
Buying A Sisal Bag Can Make A Real Difference To Africa's Starving Millions
Buying a sisal bag can make a real difference to Africa's starving millions.pdf
344.1 KiB
354 Downloads
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GOETHE INSTITUT, Light-Fibrous Cars
GOETHE INSTITUT, Light-Fibrous Cars
GOETHE INSTITUT, Light-Fibrous Cars.pdf
58.6 KiB
853 Downloads
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Kenya Sisal
Kenya Sisal
Kenya Sisal.pdf
421.3 KiB
3125 Downloads
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KENYA, Farmers Benefits From A Government Programme NALEP Initiatives
KENYA, Farmers Benefits From A Government Programme NALEP Initiatives
KENYA, Farmers benefits from a Government programme NALEP initiatives.pdf
62.2 KiB
784 Downloads
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LA ÉPOCA DE ORO DEL HENEQUÉN
LA ÉPOCA DE ORO DEL HENEQUÉN
LA ÉPOCA DE ORO DEL HENEQUÉN.pdf
75.8 KiB
701 Downloads
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Old Fiber New Tricks
Old Fiber New Tricks
Old Fiber New Tricks.pdf
62.0 KiB
553 Downloads
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Sisal Brazil - International Fiber Journal - 2006
Sisal Brazil - International Fiber Journal - 2006
Sisal Brazil - International Fiber Journal - 2006.pdf
77.5 KiB
2567 Downloads
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Sisal Initiative In Ethiopia
Sisal Initiative In Ethiopia
Sisal Initiative in Ethiopia.pdf
114.7 KiB
1446 Downloads
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Agave Nectar In South Africa
Agave Nectar In South Africa
Agave Nectar in South Africa.pdf
66.9 KiB
2026 Downloads
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CSIR Contributes To A Potentially New Agave Industry
CSIR Contributes To A Potentially New Agave Industry
CSIR contributes to a potentially new agave industry.pdf
73.0 KiB
686 Downloads
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CSIR, Agave Industry For South Africa Secured
CSIR, Agave Industry For South Africa Secured
CSIR, Agave industry for South Africa secured.pdf
137.2 KiB
596 Downloads
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Los Agaves Sudafricanos Se Enfrentarán Al Tequila
Los Agaves Sudafricanos Se Enfrentarán Al Tequila
Los Agaves Sudafricanos se Enfrentarán al Tequila.pdf
33.0 KiB
711 Downloads
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Madikwe Sisal Co-operative
Madikwe Sisal Co-operative
Madikwe Sisal Co-operative.pdf
187.5 KiB
545 Downloads
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SA’s First Agave Nectar Plant Looks To Expand
SA’s First Agave Nectar Plant Looks To Expand
SA’s first agave nectar plant looks to expand.pdf
141.1 KiB
843 Downloads
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South Africa Boguslavsky 2007
South Africa Boguslavsky 2007
South Africa Boguslavsky 2007.pdf
609.3 KiB
557 Downloads
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South Africa Tequila's New Competitor, Closes
South Africa Tequila's New Competitor, Closes
South Africa Tequila's New Competitor, Closes.pdf
172.1 KiB
559 Downloads
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Tequila De Sudáfrica
Tequila De Sudáfrica
Tequila de Sudáfrica.pdf
80.3 KiB
631 Downloads
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Government Committed To Revival Of Sisal Industry
Government Committed To Revival Of Sisal Industry
Government committed to revival of sisal industry.pdf
84.3 KiB
517 Downloads
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Magic Bullet For The Ailing Economy
Magic Bullet For The Ailing Economy
Magic bullet for the ailing economy(2).pdf
300.1 KiB
625 Downloads
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New Agricultural First Initiative
New Agricultural First Initiative
New Agricultural First Initiative.pdf
296.4 KiB
514 Downloads
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New Trust Fund
New Trust Fund
New trust fund.pdf
300.6 KiB
615 Downloads
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Overview Of The Sisal And Henequen Industry
Overview Of The Sisal And Henequen Industry
Overview of the Sisal and Henequen Industry.pdf
229.1 KiB
606 Downloads
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Renace El Sisal En Tanzania
Renace El Sisal En Tanzania
Renace el Sisal en Tanzania.pdf
412.7 KiB
680 Downloads
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REVIVAL OF SISAL INDUSTRY
REVIVAL OF SISAL INDUSTRY
REVIVAL OF SISAL INDUSTRY.pdf
299.9 KiB
907 Downloads
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Sisal Board Targets 100.000 Tonnes
Sisal Board Targets 100.000 Tonnes
Sisal board targets 100.000 tonnes.pdf
297.3 KiB
611 Downloads
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Sisal, Energy And Natural Resource
Sisal, Energy And Natural Resource
Sisal, Energy and Natural Resource.pdf
296.8 KiB
528 Downloads
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Sisal-run Power Plant In Place In May
Sisal-run Power Plant In Place In May
Sisal-run Power Plant in Place in May.pdf
295.4 KiB
1368 Downloads
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SUSTAINABLE SISAL IN TANZANIA
SUSTAINABLE SISAL IN TANZANIA
SUSTAINABLE SISAL IN TANZANIA.pdf
468.1 KiB
692 Downloads
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Tanzania Sisal Board Pushes Sisal Biogas
Tanzania Sisal Board Pushes Sisal Biogas
Tanzania Sisal Board pushes sisal biogas.pdf
54.2 KiB
464 Downloads
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Tanzania To Triple Sisal Exports
Tanzania To Triple Sisal Exports
Tanzania to triple sisal exports.pdf
67.7 KiB
813 Downloads
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ALMERÍA, TIERRA DE LAS PITAS Y PAISAJES VARIOPINTOS
ALMERÍA, TIERRA DE LAS PITAS Y PAISAJES VARIOPINTOS
ALMERÍA, TIERRA DE LAS PITAS Y PAISAJES VARIOPINTOS.doc
32.0 KiB
521 Downloads
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EL SENTIDO DE LA PITA, Verano 2011
EL SENTIDO DE LA PITA, Verano 2011
EL SENTIDO DE LA PITA, Verano 2011.pdf
1.4 MiB
617 Downloads
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La Pita, Una Planta Usada Desde El Periodo Arcaico, ECO55
La Pita, Una Planta Usada Desde El Periodo Arcaico, ECO55
La Pita, una planta usada desde el periodo arcaico, ECO55.pdf
1.8 MiB
630 Downloads
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Vivir De La Pitera
Vivir De La Pitera
Vivir de la pitera.odt
9.9 KiB
875 Downloads
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