Coir- Fibre of Future/ New Age Fibre
- It is nostalgic to reminisce the good old days when every household in India, especially in the South had its own coir rope cots, while chit chatting in the spacious verandas. Be it mattings, coir plant pots, the natural fibre - coir was in vogue. But as time passed, global markets dissipated the use of natural fibre and its products. If history is tracked down to 2012, the golden fibre from Kerala lost its supremacy featuring little or no representation on global scale. This also had a huge negative impact on traditional industries. Needless to say, the melancholy underscores the relevance of the eco-friendly fibre in creation of sustainable environment while reinstating its importance as the fibre of future today.
Extracted from the husk of coconut, Coir hails from Kerala wherein there are huge coconut plantations, and everything from culture to dishes, the southern coastal belt evolves around coconut. Kerala, popularly known as the God’s own country alone accounts for 61% of total coconut production and 85% of total coir products. Coir has come a long way from its small beginnings in the State of Kerala, centuries back. Today it is a professional and modern industry, spread over the coastal belt of India It is interesting to note that on an average, thousands of women in Alappuzha district of Kerala carry heaps of coconut husk, feeding it into machines that turn it into useful thread on daily basis. Nevertheless, the drift towards western culture posed threat to home-grown industry transcending from coir. But time shifted, and old trends did revive as Govt of India set up coir board in 1954 under an Act of Parliament viz, Coir Industry Act, 1953 (45 of 1953) for the development of coir industry in India and for the promotion of domestic as well as export markets of coir and coir products. Headquartered at Coir House, Kochi in Kerala, the Board runs 48 establishments set up in various parts of India, the Board envisions to promote growth and development of coir industry by providing support to existing enterprises and encourage creation of new enterprises and in turn generating employment and income with the support of all stakeholders.
- Coir as Livelihood source
- Coir Industry is an agro based rural industry providing employment to over 7 lakhs workers in the major coconut producing states of the country. This is an export oriented industry which earned more than Rs.2192 Crores (upto Jan, 2019) of foreign exchange for the country during 2018-19. Processing activities centred on it provide employment opportunities to people in rural areas of coconut producing states of the country viz. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha etc.
Since coir is a labour intensive and export oriented industry, the government has also played a vital role in reviving the lost fame of the traditional Indian industry by introducing various schemes and programmes to promote it. The opportunities to initiate manufacturing of value added products and introducing schemes like SFURTI (Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries) and Coir Udyami Yojana has given wings to this golden industry. Not only this, it is interesting to note that the coir sector offers employment opportunities in households, co-operatives, NGOs, manufactures and exporters. With the concerted efforts of the Coir Board and the State Governments, the production of coir and its by-product in the major coconut producing States have been making a steady progress. The utilization of coconut husk by coir industry at the current level is estimated to be 40%. As per the latest available statistics, the total production of coconut in the country is 23904.10 million nuts.
- Coir- Export oriented sector
- Coir and coir products are now exported to 110 countries all over the world.
It is interesting to note that the export of coir and coir products from the country touched an all-time high record of 756153 MT valued at Rs. 2192.45 crores during the year 2018-19.
- Women empowerment
- Most of the coir units in the country are located in rural areas and the workers belong to economically and socially weaker sections of the Society. It is estimated that 80% of the workforce in this sector are women and hence the industry contributes significantly to women empowerment.
Coir industry is of great economic significance to the coconut producing States of the country as coconut husk, the raw material for Coir industry, is available in abundance in regions of concentrated coconut cultivation and this can be used for generation of employment and income to a sizeable number of people with relatively low investment. The promotion of the industry in the traditional and non-traditional coir producing states has enhanced employment opportunities and generation of income in the rural sector of the respective states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha etc.
- Coir- ethnic, eco-friendly, hygienic and versatile.
- Going green is the call of 21st century. Coir, extracted from coconut is the fibre of the future. Thus, continuous efforts have been made to meet the needs of the industry in sustainable manner. The R&D efforts of the Coir Board of India were successful in developing a coir composite that can substitute wood, plywood and MDF boards (medium density fibre-boards). The composites are made out of a combination of two or more materials to achieve superior properties than that of its components. The coir ply can be reinforced with plantation wood like rubber wood veneer, for better properties without destroying natural forests. They are resistant to termite and borer attacks, flame retardant, boiling water resistant, and free from fungal growth. The nail holding properties are better than MDF, because of the long staple fibre and normal carpentry tools are good enough to work with.
It is commendable to note that the coir ply has been standardized under BIS (IS : 14842-2000) and the technology has been patented and approved for use in the Indian Railways, Defence, CPWD, State Road Transport undertakings, HUDCO, Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation, State Housing agencies etc.
It is estimated that 40 cubic meters of coirply can save about 66 acres of forest per annum from deforestation, assuming 100 trees per acre and each tree producing 1.80 cubic meters of wood. This indeed is an alternative to destruction.
The R&D department of Coir Board works in collaboration with different state boards to undertake innovations related to coir. Crates made out of coir composite board, for equipments like circuit breakers, lids for fiber drums, and collapside reusable containers replacing plywood are some of the very exciting products developed by Coir Board. They are found to be superior in quality compared to plywood, MDF board, etc and are cost effective. Tests and trials carried out with these products have been successful. It is a patented technology now available for commercial production
Another non-conventional product from the coir industry is the Coir Bhoovastra or coir geo-textiles commonly being used in soil bioengineering applications.
One of the major ecological threats that the world faces today is soil erosion, particularly of the topsoil. The coir bhoovastra as long term biodegradable geo-textile of soil bioengineering and bioremediation applications has been well acknowledged. The coirgeotextiles are available in woven or nonwoven form as meshes, needled felt, pads, erosion control blankets, antiweed blankets, georolls etc. The permeable fabric is easy to install and follows the contours of the soil surface. It is particularly useful for uneven and rocky terrains. For future developments, it can be used as an overlay for surface cover or as an interlay for separation, filteration and drainage.
Coir has done remarkable efforts in bringing the non-conventional product range which is coir pith, which is the spongy material that binds the coconut fibre in the husk. It is a by-product separated out of the husk while extracting the fiber. Its capacity to hold moisture eight times its weight makes coir pith an excellent soil conditioner. With the ban on mining of peat that is actually baby coal, the horticulture industry was in search of an alternative material from a renewable resource.
- Coir pith was found to be a suitable substitute for natural peat. Coir has amazing water-retaining capacity. Thus, the fibre act like mini-sponges, yielding astounding plant growth, which eventually makes it a great product as coir pith. Coir pith collected from coir material, has fibrous material that doesn’t get composted, thus, coir pith products like coir pith growth bag, coir pith bale, coir pith briquettes, coir pith discs, and coco chips are ideal for gardening and horticultural needs. India annually produces about 280,000 metric tons of coir fiber. By weight, coir fibers account for about one-third of the coconut pulp and the other two-thirds is the coir pith.
- Conclusion- Save nature, use Coir
- With such a good potential for eco-friendly products from a renewable resource like coir, one would expect things to go smooth in the context of widespread debate on sustainable development. Coir is one of the most versatile fibre extracted from the Mother Nature. Today having multitude of applications, it touches every facet of man’s life and activity, ranging from doormats, mattings, mattresses, tufted products, geotextiles, garden articles and wood substitutes. Thus, due attention is required to be paid to the promotion and development of coir products. Realising its potential, modernisation of the sector through developmental activities has been undertaken by the Central and State/UT Governments.
While the world is looking for answers to problems of sustainable development the coir industry is offering a win-win solution. What is now needed is a change in our mind-set in favour of accepting an alternative strategy for sustainable development i.e. Eco-development.