Market-sensitive designs become core drivers in growth of coir industry

Written by M Sarita Varma | Alapuzha | Updated: Feb 17 2012, 09:39am hrs
Coir manufacturers in Kerala are seeking a resurgence on the back of Marilyn Monroe mats. The recent coir meet in Alapuzha, a sleepy, coastal town in Kerala, saw people flocking to pick up coir mats which had her designs on it. These may not have yielded big bucks (each costs $4), but it served to attract some attention. The meet was an attempt at driving traffic to the coir shops.

We intend to reach R1,000 crore exports in the coming year. This would be besides the R2,000 crore in domestic sales, says Rani George, special secretary, coir, Kerala. In 2011, Kerala coir exports stood at R807 crore.

Market-sensitive designs are the core-drivers of value-addition in the new age international market, says Henner Schurholz, a German delegate.

Schurholzs natural fibre products company Dekowe had been in trade ties with the Kerala firms for latest eco-friendly interior decoration products.

We had spent only about R3 crore for the international fair out of which R1 crore came from commerce ministrys market kitty, says Adoor Prakash, Kerala minister, who handles coir. Coir enjoys a separate minister in Kerala, signifying how crucial this coconut-product is for the coastal states socio- economic fabric. Coir value-addition gives work to 3.5 lakh people, mostly women in the lowest economic rung of the society, says K Madanan, director, coir development, Kerala.

Thus, there are village women who havent heard of MF Hussain working on colour pigments for Van Goghs Tulips or tweaking a coir fibre for Paul Gauguins Apples, a Pear and Ceramic to make exportable coir wall panelling pieces. It is also not too rare to find a monk or two from Santhigiri Ashram, logging up export orders for the ashrams industrial unit making coir garden pots and geotextiles to strenghten embankments. The global demand for enviornmentally safe building material is fast emerging and it is a vast opportunity window for coir geotextiles.

Packaging material may not be quite glamourous catching the traders eye, but for coir, that could be tomorrows goldpot, says NC Saha, director, Indian Institute of Packaging, Mumbai. While global packaging industry is $525 billion, India still lags behind at $14 billion.

According to Saha, the growing demand for eco-friendly products is where coir should fast step in. There are coir mat designs imaging doubledecker-bus, Volkwagen car, Charlie Chaplin or a Victorian era english country belle . Says Niranjan John, a BBA student, coir marketing aspirant, The idea is that the new designs should leverage on the new export destinations like South Africa, where there is a colonial shadow. We tell the producers that designs should reflect the cultural aspirations of market.