The primary concern for vegetable fibre reinforced mortar composites (VFRMC) is the durability of the fibres in the alkaline environment of cement. The composites may undergo a reduction in strength and toughness as a result of weakening of the fibres by a combination of alkali attack and mineralisation through the migration of hydration products to lumens and spaces. This paper presents several approaches used to improve the durability performance of VFRMCs incorporating sisal and coconut fibres. These include carbonation of the matrix in a CO2-rich environment; the immersion of fibres in slurried silica fume prior to incorporation in the ordinary Portland cement (OPC) matrix; partial replacement of OPC matrix by undensified silica fume or blast-furnace slag and a combination of fibre immersion in slurried silica fume and cement replacement. The durability of the modified VFRMC was studied by determining the effects of ageing in water, exposure to cycles of wetting and drying and open air weathering on the microstructures and flexural behaviour of the composites. Immersion of natural fibres in a silica fume slurry before their addition to cement-based composites was found to be an effective means of reducing embrittlement of the composite in the environments studied. Early cure of composites in a CO2-rich environment and the partial replacement of OPC by undensified silica fume were also efficient approaches in obtaining a composite of improved durability. The use of slag as a partial cement replacement had no effect on reducing the embrittlement of the composite. © 2002 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.