Coir industry weaves its woes in worlds largest mat

Written by Sandip Das | Alappuzha, Kerala, | Updated: Jan 27 2010, 05:58am hrs
In this coastal town of Kerala and adjacent villages, coir weavers are giving finishing touches to the worlds largest ever mat. A contender for an entry into the Guinness World Records , the mat could, however, be one of the last such produced by the 1.5 lakh families engaged in this trade. The handicraft industry is in dire straits and wants the attention generated by the mat to garner some support.

The venture is being spearheaded by Alappuzha-based Travancore Cocotuft Ltd (TCL). To be unveiled to the public on Wednesday, the doormat, which took eight months to be manufactured by TCLs finest weavers, is 32-mm thick, and measures 1.2 metres by 101 metres, and weighs close to 1,000 kg. We need to draw the attention of consumers towards this unique product drawn from the nature, says TCL CEO Mahadevan P.

The more-than-a-century-old industry, which employs over 1.5 lakh weavers and 4 lakh spinners in Kerala, is facing tough times because of lack of modernisation of the weaving industry and a stiff rise in workers wages.

In 1990s, when Kerala decided to modernise its weaving mills, it was too late and traditional weavers suddenly realised their children were simply not interested in the trade anymore, says MV Viswanathan, asst general manager, Aspinwall & Co Ltd, one of the oldest industrial units owned by the Travancore royal family.

Due to home-based nature of the trade and inefficient distribution of husk, the industry has also been facing a shortage of coir fibre in Kerala. Earlier, raw materials were found in the state itself. Now the entire industry is depending on fibre supplies from Tamil Nadu, Viswanathan adds.

The coir industry in Kerala uses only about 50% of the coconut husks while the remaining is being used as fuel in rural areas. A large number of units from Kerala have shifted base to neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for manufacturing coire fibre.

Coir Board officials admit that the industry in Kerala, which until a decade back used to contribute to around 60% of the worlds 3.5-lakh-tonne coir fibre production, is not prospering, with its production drastically coming down to around 1.2 lakh tonne.

At present, the entire industry in the state is depending on fibre supplies from Tamil Nadu, says an official from the Coir Board under the ministry of small and medium enterprises.

However, under a project being implemented by the Small Industries Development Bank of India (Sidbi), the coir industry is trying to regain its lost glory by focussing on the domestic market as well. The four-year project (2007-2011) aided by the department for international development is aimed at enhancing the competitiveness and business development of the micro, small and medium enterprises in areas like management development training, domestic marketing and ISO certification.

Aspinwall has recently launched the Sparsh brand of doormats exclusively targeting the domestic market for the first time. The Coir Board is also targeting close to 10% increase in exports to Rs 700 crore for the current fiscal from last years Rs 640 crore. There are more than 250 coir and coir products exporters and nearly 10,000 small-scale coir manufacturers registered with the Coir Board engaged in the production of Alleppey Coir, which manufactuers a wide range of products such as mats, rope, carpets etc.

Currently, the global annual production of coir fibre is estimated at about 3.5 lakh tonne. India and Sri Lanka, which account for about 90% of the global coir fibre production.