837.232/1–1653: Airgram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Embassy in Cuba



  • Review of United States Interagency Discussions on Kenaf.

A–268. Reference Embassy’s Telegram No. 342, January 16, 1953.1 The following is a review of recent United States interagency discussions on kenaf: [Page 883]

In late November 1952 the Munitions Board Interdepartmental Fibers Committee reviewed the kenaf fiber purchase program for 1952 and considered the question of whether the program should be continued in the future. The following recommendations were adopted unanimously and subsequently accepted by the Munitions Board:
That the MB request the Department of Agriculture to continue, perhaps in modified form, a kenaf fiber production program. The Committee recognizes that in the present circumstances the fiber purchase goal need not be as large as the 1952 goal of 15 million pounds; perhaps a reduction of one fourth to one half may be feasible. Suitable modifications in the price schedule also appear desirable.
That the Committee also recommends the establishment, under the Defense Production Act,2 of a research and development project to study and develop kenaf fiber-preparation processes (mechanical decortication, chemical extraction, water-retting, or other means).
However, the Defense Production Administration (the agency which has responsibility for certifying the essentiality of the kenaf fiber purchase program) concurred in recommendation (a) only on the condition that the Committee adopt a resolution along the lines of (b). The DPA representatives noted that CCC’s 1951 and 1952 seed and fiber purchase programs offered proof of the fact that kenaf can be grown successfully in a number of western hemisphere countries. On the other hand, they believed that comparatively little progress had been made toward the successful mechanization of kenaf cultivation and fiber extraction. With jute again in a surplus position, and likely to continue to be in ample supply in the foreseeable future, the prospects of the western hemisphere’s kenaf production becoming competitive with jute are greatly reduced. The DPA representatives questioned that continuation of a fiber purchase program for another year would contribute to the solution of the problem of achieving economical production and extraction methods. In their opinion much more could be accomplished by concentrating resources on a machinery research and development project. Other agencies, including State, agreed with the DPA officials as to the desirability of establishing such a project and welcomed their proposal to sponsor the undertaking. (In previous discussions the Committee had been given to understand that the legislative authority for DPA to finance such an undertaking was lacking.) On the other hand, they considered that one year’s operation did not offer a fair test of the value of the fiber purchase program. They feared that by withdrawing at this time both the Government and the growers might lose the benefit of the substantial investment which has been made in kenaf and the knowledge which has been gained. Furthermore, they considered that an extension of the fiber purchase [Page 884] program could contribute to the solution of the problem by encouraging the utilization of existing facilities, which are comparatively untried. They believed that by reducing the scale of the program and by appropriate adjustments in prices, the cost of the fiber program would be modest in comparison with the benefits which might be derived. The DPA representatives then modified their position and assented to continuation of a fiber purchase program in 1953 on the condition mentioned above.
Unfortunately when DPA began its plans for the implementation of recommendation (b) it was found their legal authority to finance this kind of a project was questionable. Consequently, they withdrew their previous offer, and requested the Munitions Board to reopen the subject. This development took place just before the time the Official Cuban Government Commission on Kenaf visited Washington. (A copy of a memorandum of conversation3 on a meeting held with the Cuban Commission is being forwarded to the Embassy.)
In the past week two lines of action have been started with a view to resolving this matter at the earliest possible date.
Consultations are under way with the Technical Cooperation Administration to see whether that agency can help finance a long term project to develop improved bast fiber production processes. Since the purpose of TCA is to assist governments through providing technical rather than financial assistance, the major financing of such an undertaking would by necessity have to come principally from the interested foreign governments.
An interdepartmental working group is developing data on soft fiber supply and requirements based on full mobilization. Justification for the continuation of a fiber purchase program in 1953 will largely depend on the results of this study. In this connection, it should be noted that while kenaf may offer some promise as a bagging fiber for western hemisphere countries which have soft-fiber weaving facilities, this consideration does not apply in respect to the United States. There is practically no burlap-weaving machinery in this country, and little prospect that private interests will invest in such facilities. Government financing of burlap-weaving facilities is considered extremely unlikely. Therefore, so far as U.S. strategic considerations are concerned, the need for kenaf would depend in main on the position in soft fibers. There is some possibility that kenaf may be of strategic value as an extender for hard fibers but this is still conjectural.
As matters now stand it seems very unlikely that final action with respect to a kenaf fiber purchase program will be taken before another 4 to 6 weeks.

The above is for the information of the Embassy only. It is suggested that in replying to any inquiries on the status of the United States [Page 885] Government kenaf development activities the Embassy may at its discretion make use of the following information:

Cuba’s cooperation in fostering kenaf cultivation has been very gratifying. It is considered that great progress has been made from the agronomic standpoint. Although the disease problem has not been entirely overcome, prospects for developing disease resistant strains appear favorable.
Progress toward economical methods of mechanization has been disappointing particularly in view of the considerable sums of private capital which have been invested. Research and development in kenaf harvesting and fiber extraction and processing machinery is needed. The Technical Cooperation Administration has expressed the expectation of continuing the Cooperative Fiber Commission at about the present level. In addition it is exploring the possibility of establishing a long term project to develop improved bast fiber production processes.
The annual review of the strategic significance of kenaf is under way, and should be completed in another 4 to 6 weeks. There is as yet no basis for predicting whether this review will provide the necessary justification for the use of United States Government funds for subsidizing kenaf fiber purchases in 1953. Consequently, assurances of continuation of the fiber purchase program cannot be given at this time.

The Department will notify the Embassy as soon as action on the kenaf fiber purchase program is finalized.

  1. Not printed (837.232/1–1653).
  2. Reference is to Public Law 774, approved Sept. 8, 1950; for text, see 64 Stat. 799.
  3. Not printed.