In Kerala, the nerve-centre of country's coir production, though coconuts are part of household homestead farm produce, the husk effectively utilised as coir fibre for the industry is less than 30%. The annual production of retted fibre was only 30,000 tonne. There has hardly been any organised effort to utilise husk from the 600 crore coconuts per year that the state yields," KR Anil, director, National Coir Research Management Institute (NCRMI), told FE.
At the same time, the industry is perked up by new export destinations, new orders and new product development efforts that could expand the international market. From R806 crore in 2010-2011, after the first Coir Kerala event, coir exports surged to R1,052 crore in 2011-2012 and R1,152 crore in 2012-2013. Compared to the R100-crore export orders in the buyer-seller meet in Coir Kerala 2013, orders swelled by 50% in 2014. This is expected to reflect in the exports too.
Some of the new coir products such as the agri coir cell could have great potential in land utilisation in agricultural countries, says Jean Martin, a French delegate at the expo. For instance, the meshed cellular structure that looks like a fishing net could aid cultivation on erosion-prone slopes.
Coir ropes woven into geotextiles have long been used to prevent mudslides and erosion along slopes.The newly developed 'agri coir cell' not just tackles the erosion problem better than conventional geotextiles, but also provides small pockets of soil (like rows of porus flower pots), which can be dug and planted.
More than the US and the European Union, it is the new entrants that excite the the industry. Besides Kazakhsthan in eastern Europe, countries from East like Hong Kong, Vietnam and Qatar, and Australian countries like Gautemala and Madagascar, have started sending delegates to the four-year old natural fibre fair.
In fact, 160 buyers from 46 countries had participated in the buyer-seller meet. This was apart from 100 domestic buyers.
"Husk shortage is a serious supply chain issue that could be a party-spoiler for rising coir exports. Producing more needs more coconut husk for fibre extraction," says P Narayanan, a coir rug manufacturer. "We are willing to do our mite in product diversification and participating in the export maket expansion, but what could done with so much of raw material procurement issues" he asks.
The Kerala government had been trying its hand at the ambitious Husk Collection Scheme last year, but it failed to take off.
"This year, the state is planning to string together farmer societies and coir societies so that husk collection and fibre-extraction happen seamlessly," says Rani George, secretary
(Coir), Kerala. One unexpected fillip to this initiative is the development of a portable fibre-extracting machine.
The state is mulling a plan of supplying this portable machine to coconut farmer societies at subsidised rates, so that fibre for the coir industry is made available at spot.