The Indian coir industry is now making a comeback, keeping pace with the change in technology and imbibing the latest developments in production techniques and designs.
The Indian coir industry has come a long way from manufacturing simple ropes to various highend lifestyle products. The establishment of the first coir factory in Alleppey by James Darrah, initiated the process of professionalism and modernisation in an otherwise unorganised sector. Over one hundred and forty summers ago, when James Darrah decided to establish a coidactory in Alleppey, he may not have visualised the revolution he was launching in a strange land. The Europeans had entrenched themselves in India and political revolutions of different hues were being enacted in various parts of India. But the one that Darrah launched by establishing India’s first coir factory in 185960 in Alleppey, better known as the Venice of the East, was one that would change the face of Indian coastal belt. It would also emerge as the largest employment generator in the state.
Not that coir was something new to Alleppey. Coir had been in use in various forms and coir making was prevalent around the world from Belgian Congo to Guam and from Venezuela to Eritrea a long time before Darrah’s factory came up in Alleppey.But the significance of Darrah’s effort was that it raised coir-making in India from an unorganised cottage industry to a professional and modernised industrial activity that helped Indian coir to rule the world markets.
Up until then, coir making in India was largely a dissipated industry with households producing miniscule quantities products had already established an appeal of fibre by retting and then beating coconut for most Europeans as hygienic interior husks. Others would then make yarn out of decor products. Mechanisation was unheard of the first coir factory was established, as and the family units that produced fibre and many as 1,402 of the 1,831 coir units in yarn hardly bothered about the advantages Kerala were in Alleppey, establishing the of professionally organising their traditional coastal town as the unchallenged headquarter coir-making capabilities. Once the first coir of the coir industry. By this time, the factory was up, the unique quality of Indian domestic coir industry had spread its wings,coir did the rest.
Indian Golden Fibre
The golden textured Indian coir fibre, which Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Goa, and there earned the unofficial brand name ‘golden was no doubting the fact that Indian coir fibre’, captured the European and world markets in no time. From then on, there was The principal reason for Indian coir’s reign no turning back. The big corporates era soon established coir factories in fibre that in Alleppey, Kollam, Kozhikode, Kochi and other parts of Kerala. Industrial heavyweights of the time, including Volkart Brothers,William Goodacre,pierce leslie and Aspinwall moved in to tap the potential offered by the golden fibre,and Alleppey was soon a household name all over Europe.By 1967 the “Golden Fibre” had captured the european and the world markets.
That was natural,considering the versatility of coir.The myraid utilities of coir took it to just about ecery area of human activity.For samples,consider this: The hop fields in England that provided raw material to the beer industry used coir ropes in large quantities on the farms. So did the olive oil presses in Trukey, bringing out the versatility of the coconut fibre.And coir products had already established an appeal for most Europeans as hygienic interior decor products.
Ruling World Market
By 1967, a little over a hundred years after the first coir factory was established, as many as 1,402 of the 1,831 coir units in Kerala were in Alleppey, establishing the coastal town as the unchallenched headquarter of the coir industry. By this time, the domestic coir factories coming up in several states including Karnataka,Tamil nadu,Andra pradesh,Orissa and Goa,and there was no doubting the fact that indian coir industry was on a broad footing.The principle reason for indian coirs reign in the world markets was the unique golden fibre that in turn was owed to the unique properties of the husk of Indian coconuts and the retting facilities available. As K.R. Lawrence Bandey, MBE who set up the William Goodacre operations in Alleppey reminisces, “Around the middle of the 20th century, there was not a house in Europe that did not use some coir article”.
Coir Goe-Textiles,or coir Bhoovastra have shot into the lime light today thanks to its eco-frinedly characteristics.They are being effectively used for improving soil bahaviours,preventing soil erosion,and in helping consolidation of soil.Coir as a 100% organic and bio-degradable fibre,with great water absorbency,has a definite edge over synthetic goe textiles,in the environmental aspect.The greatest advantage is that it provides an ecological niche for rapid establishment of vegetation.Coir geo-textiles come in a mind-boggling range of woven and non-woven varieties available for bio-engineering,including geo meshes,girds,geo-beds,anti-weed blankets,needled felts,erosion control blankets, geo-rolls,geo-webs, and fascines.
The Anjengo yam, which derived its name from Anchuthengu in the then Travancore kingdom, was easily the most premium brand, with a golden texture that earned it the golden fibre sobriquet. Coconut husks from Anchuthengu were retted in slightly moving waters of the lagoons in the area for about nine months, at the end of which the fibre was extracted by beating the softened husks. The pith and other materials would fall off, and the golden fibre would emerge, which established Indian coir’s hegemony in the world markets. There were also other well-known varieties like the Vaikom yarn and the Aratri yam, but the interesting part is that these varieties had their own niche markets even when branding was not prevalent in coir fibre and yam sectors.
In fact, a key factor that helped the establishment of the coir spinning industry in Kerala is the presence of brackish backwaters and lagoons. Brackish waters had to be replenished by fresh water at frequent intervals to wash away the water contaminated in the process of retting of husks, and Kerala was naturally endowed with this facility also.This was perhaps what established the industry so firmly in India and particularly in kerala,even though coconut production was significantly high in several other countries like Indonesia,Philippines,SriLanka and Thailand.
After the heady days right from the time the first factory was established in the latter half of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, the industry went through some upheavals. The two world wars, the Independence movement, and later some opposition to European companies continuing in India, all left their consequences on the Indian coir industry.By the seventies, the wheel was turning full circle, and the foreign companies were leaving control to Indian business houses. The technology aspect was also overlooked and the Indian coir industry suffered as power looms in Europe muscled their way past the manually operated Indian looms. Also with the opening up of the economy, Indian coir products have been facing tough competition in the global market with products of other natural fibres and synthetics affecting exports. The battle-hardened Indian coir industry, however, had the resilience to live through those hard times.
Coir ply boards developed by Coir Board is also an excellent building material,especially for interiors,instead of traditional heavier materials.Coir ply boards have gypsum core and the side are normally lined with paper.These boards are lightweight making it easier to dismantle should you want to re-do your interiors after a few years.The coir ply board is also an excellent low cost insulation material at residences and office buildings.coir ply also offers a dector option and is an excellent wood substitute.It can be used in the place of conventional wood for all kinds of woodmark,like doors,windows,cupboards,wall panels,etc.It can be laminated or coated with melamine finish for a glossy or matte finish.
Though slow in coming, in keeping with the international market trend the Indian coir industry has also woken up to the call for modernisation. The ancient coir manufacturing techniques have been replaced by advanced technological processes,with the introducton of motorised rets, automatic spinning machines, mechanised dehusking processes and the technology for yarn based value added products. Semi-mechanised looms and power looms are now used for making mats, matting and carpets. The continued R&D efforts are bearing fruits with the innovative developments in the coir sector – non-woven items like coir mattresses, needled felt, PVC tufting etc.
Mats with unique designs and kaleidoscopic colours, carpets, bags and baskets, tablemats, throw rugs, mattresses, panelling materials, garden articles et al coir has now become favourite among home makers and interior designers worldwide.”Great value for money, a substitute for synthetic fibres, ecofriendly, hygienic and versatile, light on the wallet as well as on environment, durable and weather resistant, chic and designer friendly the reasons for choosing coir by the environment protectionists and others find no limits. In view of the above and. with the help of strenuous R&D efforts of the Coir Board, I could predict that the Indian coir has a very good future,” avers, Mr.Chandran.
Steps Being Taken
Of late, the industry in traditional areas such as Kerala and non-traditional areas such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, have realised the need for rapid modernisation which involved mechanisation, product development and diversification. As a result, higher investment, particularly in the private sector, is taking place. Several new factories have come up, especially in Kerala, with multinational participation. The traditional manufacturer exporters are also now investing more and more for modernising their factories by setting up modem design studios and state-of-the-art effluent treatment plants.
The small and medium manufacturers are also rising to the occasion. However, the major problem the small producers face today is modemisation of their production infrastructure. The high cost of machinery has become a major handicap. A semiautomatic loom machine would cost around RsA lakh. Since the demand for coir machinery has been low, investment in coir machinery development and manufacturing is quite low or nil.The Coir Board has embarked on a total restructuring programme for the industry. Several experiments are being currently undertaken to develop a model for restructuring, such as the UNDP project. Five clusters have been identified in Alappuzha, Kollam (Kerala), Pollachi and Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) and Arasikarai in Karanataka under this programme for modernisation, technology transfer and capacity building. Technology developed by
“Rs.100 crores alloted for coir regeneration”
Interview with C.Chandran I.A.S.,Chairman,Coir Board,Kochi.
The government of India has alloted new funds to promote coir industry in India. Give us brief details?
The Government of India provides annually funds for the development of Coir Industry in the country through various plan programmes, under the Five Year Plan. Recently under the National Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government an amount of Rs.l 00 crores was earmarked for regeneration of certain traditional industries induding coir, which are identified for integrated development, with particular stress on Rural Employment Generation and Modernisation.
Recently in Bangalore there was a national level seminar on coir products.What are the highlights of the seminar?
There was a Seminar on Wood Substitution through Engineered Wood Barfiboo & other Lignocellulosics, organised by the Indian Plywood Industries Research & ‘Training Institute (IPIRIT), Bangalore on 17th December 2004. Among other things the technical session of the seminar also discussed the qualities of coir reinforced composites as wood substitute.
There is a news about growth in demand for coir products.What are the specific products for which there is demand?
The major terms of hign demand in the export market are : (i)Coir pith,(ii)Coir Goetextiles (iii)Handloom mats (iv)Tufted Mats
There is a good news that coir and coir products exports have reached Rs.225.91 crore this year, what is the percentage of growth of export?
The export statistics of coir and coir products during the period from April to September, 2004 shows that there is an increase in export of 20%, compared to the corresponding period during the previous year. The share of coir door mats in terms of quantity and value in the total export of coir products is nearly 50% in terms of quantity and 55-70% in terms of value.The doormats are also showing steady growth both in terms of quantity and value.
Coir doormats have shown bigger growth than other products. Why there is a new demand for doormats.
Among the coir products the door mats occupy unique position because of its brushing quality which most of its competing substitutes do not have. Coir products are natural, 100% biodegradable,environment friendly and cost effective. The environment friendly consciousness is emerging on a high scale which definitely makes the coir products more acceptable. The concerted efforts of the Coir Board to strengthen the export markets by way of increased participation in foreign fairs, conducted of market study, sponsoring of delegation/market missions, participation in catalogue shows & product promotion programmes, undertaking generic publicity promotional efforts through variouse embassies etc. have helped the coir products to expand its global market. Because of its inherent quality of keeping warm in winter, coir products are widely used in all countries where cold climate prevail.
About coirpith, there is a growth according to the statistics. Please tell us whether coirpith is used extensively inIndia and if so please give details in what areas(like agriculture,horticulture and other water conservation projects)it is used?
Though not common coir path is now inuse in India in agriculture and horticulture as soilless growth medium.
Coir pith has demand in overseas market,for what purpoae it is used?
The spongy structure of coir pith facilities high degree of water retention and easy root penetration.The stability of the material,for conditioning of farm soil for retention of moisture,for mulching and as a receptacle for slow release of nutrients to the crop are the added advantage of coir pith which made it an able alternative to Peat Moss.Coir Pith is exported to over-seas markets for use in the place of peat moss,as a substitute for green house farming.Coir Pith fortified with fertilisers in an effective soilless media for plant growth and soil conditioner.
Netherland is importing large quantities of raw piths for value addition and re-exporting it. What is the special value addition Netherland does? Can’t’ we in India do the same thing and earn more revenue?
Netherlands is very famous for its flori and horticultural tradition. Majority of people in Netherlands are in the habits of keeping outdoor and indoor gardens in their premises. Accordingly the agricultural and horticultural industry has a strong base in Netherlands.It is true that the traders in Netherlands import raw coir path and makes value addition and market nourished coir pith in the form of coins,pellets etc.for use in horticulture and gardening.The value addition industry is one of the major industries in Netherlands and they require only raw coir pith.
The Indian Coir pith is an infant stage and its use in horticulture and gardening as a soil conditioner and as a soil less grow medium is a comparitively a new end use application.There is no two opinion that it would be advantageous to the Indian Industry to make value addition in India and export only value added products rether than allowing raw pith to enter the export market.When we ourselves can do value addition at a much more economical way to make it an effective soil less medium for plant growth and soil conditioner,the persent system of value addition at the hands of importers,will result in our country loosing the valuable foreign exchange.
However,this is a new area in which sufficient studies and surveys have not been conducted.Moreover for exporting the value added coir pith the Indidan exporters have to find out their own marketing channels apart from the existing traders in each of the export markets by competing with the traditional traders.Before materialising this idea a thorough and comprehensive study has to be conducted in consultation with the coir pith manufacturers and exporters.
Please tell what are the new demands for geotextiles?
Coir geotextiles or coir bhoovastra nurture eroded environments,by preventing soil erosion,consolidating soil and providing rapid establishment of vegetation.Coir as a 100 % organic and biodegradable fibre,with great water absorbency,has a definite edge over synthetic geotextiles.The greatest advantage is that it provides an ecologival niche for rapid establishment of vegetation.The coir geotextiles are available in the form o non-woven geobeds,antiweed blankets,needed felts,erosion control blankets,geo rolls,geo webs and fascines.
There is a news saying their is shortage of coir fiber. Does this mean the coconut farmers are getting higher prices for their supply of coir fibre?please explain what are the incentives given to the coconot famers?
Yes,there is a short fall in the production of fibre.This is mainly due to the continuous drought that affected the production of coconuts in kerala,TamilNadu and karnataka.The severe attack of mite also affected the quality of husk characterised by reduced fibre content in these three states.The combined effect of these developments affected production of coir fibre in kerala,Tamil Nadu and karnataka.Lack of a systematic mechanism for procurement of raw material and therby ensuring uninterrupted supply of coconut husk required for the coir industry,paritcularly in lerala,is another bottlenack in augmenting fibre production.
Obviously,when demand goes up on account of short supply of fibre to the production centres in Kerala,there has been upprecedented increase in the prixe too,in the case of locally available as well as those supplies from the neighbouring states to supplement her local production.The high labour cost in kerala force the manufactures to take the coconut husk to the neighbouring states for defibering and bring back as fiber to kerala,which is yet another reason for the increase in prixe of the fiber.coir Board has been fully ceased off the problem and pursued a number of short term and long term measures.The Government of India had permitted import of coir fiber on duty free basis for a period of one year to address the problem of shortage of fiber.Efforts to ensure setting up of more defibering machines in potential regions in Kerala and Tamilnadu is an important measure to tide over this scarce situation.
What is the state of incentive schemes for coir based industries?
Coir Board is having schemes for extending financial assistance to coir manufacturers and exports.Coir manufacturers are given financial assistance for starting coir units.Coir Exporters are given Market Development Assistance for participating in foreign exhibitions,undertaking sales tours etc..
How many people are employed in coir based industries?
About 5,63,000 workers are engaged in coir industry.
According to your Board,what is the latest statistics of coir farmers?What is the number of coconut trees grown in the major states?
These are the subjects being dealt by the Coconut Development Board. The Central Coir Research Institute for faster retting and to improve the quality of fibre is being transferred to the field. Besides, traditional spinning has been modernised by using an appropriate technology, which would enhance productivity.Five consortia of small producers an small exporters, who will collectively procure raw material and market information, besides participating in exhibitions and fairs. This approach is known as “revitalisation and cost reduction through consortia approach.
A coir trade information centre would become operational at the Board headquarters to provide information online. To ensure quality, a testing laboratory has been set up at CCRI. The Board is in the process of getting ‘Ecomark’ certification from Bureau of Indian Standards and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. This is internationally accepted and would attract more consumers world over.
The Indian coir industry is now making a comeback, keeping pace with the change in technology and imbibing the latest developments in production techniques and designs. Symbolising the positive outlook in the industry, a good number of units have achieved the ISO 9000 quality certification. The cooperative sector also made its mark, organising individual households involved in coir making activities and reaping the benefits of organised buying of raw material and shared common facilities. Kerala alone has 620 primary societies and 43 manufacturing societies.
The Indian coir industry has been fortunate to get another boost in the form of the ever increasing awareness about eco-protection. Coir, being a natural fibre that is environment-friendly in the strictest sense of the term, is now seen as the fibre of the future. The eco-friendly quality of coir will help it to hold its ground even as it battles competition from synthetic fibres. The development of geotextiles, which helps protect the soil and in turn the environment, by acting against soil erosion, is the best advertisement for coir in recent times.
The Indian coir industry is now on the comeback trail, after the sluggishness over the past three decades. Indian coir industry has a phenomenal share of 89 per cent of the global market for value-added coir products. The export figures have moved up from Rs.250 crore in 1997 to Rs.314 crore during 2000-01.Those figures may not be awesomein value terms, but the real significance lies in the fact that the industry employs a staggering Slakh people directly or indirectly. Equally significant is the fact that most of these people are from the economically disadvantaged classes, and as much as 80 percent of the workers are women.
The new optimism is evident in the way coir makers and merchant exporters are pursuing higher growth objectives. Mechanisation is no more opposed by the labourers and the winds of liberalisation are sweeping the industry.
The minimum export price (MEP) appears set to be scrapped as coir makers and exporters get geared up to face competition in the age of the WTO and global markets. The Indian coir industry, that many thought was breathing its last in the early Nineties, is waking up to a new dawn. Call it the great Indian rope trick, if you will.
Plans for the Development
On the basis of the Common Minimum Programme announced by the Government of India, Coir Board proposes to implement a good number of programmes.The spinning and weaving sectors of the industry involve drudgery and needs moderisation. Various plans are in the pipeline to modernise the industry. The Board has achieved tremendous growth in this direction.With the development of Coirret – a bacterial cocktail for faster retting of coconut husk, motorised ret capable of producing 8 kilogrammes of coir yarn per day by a sihgle woman worker, motorised traditional ret, imparting training to women and extending financial assistance under the scheme “Mahila Coir Y ojana”, development of semimechanised and mechanised looms for weaving coir matting, recently developed light weight, compact, metallic handloom “Anugraha”, for weaving coir geotextiles and also matting, which can easily be operated by women workers. “I am so proud to say that this invention has bagged the NRDC award also.
With the application of ‘Pith Plus’- a fungal spawn developed at our Research Institute it is now possible to manufacture C-POM — the Coir Pith Organic Manure, using coir pith,” says Mr.Chandran.He adds, “As part of the product development and diversification in the sector we have various plans. In collaboration with the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad we have developed a technology for blending coir fibre with other natural fibres for the production of vertical blends, curtain materials etc. Cocolawn, which is a readymade lawn using coir geotextiles and coir pith, is an innovative development in this sector. Now we have developed sixteen shades of natural dyes, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, which can be highlighted as an achievement in the field of dyeing. ”
He further added, “The Coir Board Millennium Development Mission, a vision for the future, is an ambitious vision, I am sure that there will be a visible impact on coir industry, which I hope, could be seen in the next five years. The Board’s schemes will be revamped on the basis of this vision and this will be a milestone in the history of Indian Coir Industry”.
For more information,contact:
Marketing & Publicity Officer,
Coir Board,Coir House,M.G.Road,
Tel : 351807/351788/351954/354397
Email : email@example.com,