Banana paper may provide cash-strapped Caribbean countries with the best hope for a brighter future.

Nine youths from Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent and Suriname are now visiting Japan at the invitation of the government to receive training in the utilization of banana fiber for making paper and other products. They will leave Saturday after spending 13 days in Okinawa, Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo.

It is the first time that Japan has invited foreign trainees in this field and is part of various cooperation programs Japan pledged to Caribbean countries during a ministerial meeting in Tokyo in November 2000.

According to Foreign Ministry officials, deforestation for paper production is widely considered a threat to the global environment, making it increasingly imperative to use raw materials other than wood pulp in paper production.

The officials said that Japan has invited the nine Caribbean youths for training in the technology for making paper and other products from banana leaves and stems as part of efforts to help their countries diversify their industries.

Development of a banana paper industry will help Caribbean countries create jobs, promote economic growth and ease poverty, the officials said.

It will also help reduce the illiteracy rate and promote education in the region because some of Caribbean countries face an acute shortage of paper used in the production of textbooks and notebooks, the officials said.

Banana paper is gaining worldwide attraction as a potentially significant contributor to forest protection. Hiroshi Morishima, a professor at the Nagoya City University, is a leading researcher on banana paper technology.

According to Morishima, it is technologically possible to maker better-quality paper with fiber from banana leaves and stems than with wood pulp if the traditional Japanese manufacturing method used for “washi” paper is utilized.

If banana tree leaves and stems are used for paper production without being dumped as agricultural waste, Morishima claims, it will be possible for banana paper to meet a huge percentage of the global need for paper products.

After receiving an inquiry from Ecuador about the possibility of utilizing banana leaves for paper production in 1998, Morishima launched a study called “Banana Paper Project.”

In August 2000, Morishima and Japanese paper and educational materials companies started a pilot project of transporting back to Japan banana fiber from Haiti and actually making paper from it. In February 2001, they published a banana paper-made picture book about the banana paper-manufacturing method, titled “Miracle Banana,” in cooperation with Haitian authors and painters. All 8,000 copies of the book have been sold.

Last August, the government-affiliated Japan International Cooperation Agency also dispatched Morishima to Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent and St. Lucia to provide technical cooperation in the production of banana paper.

“It is believed that the project will not only assist the development of ecologically gentle new raw materials for paper but will also contribute to the development of industries in developing countries (especially in the Caribbean), thereby assisting their economic independence,” Morishima wrote in his report introducing the Banana Paper Project.

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