Kochi: With the 160,000 workers in Kerala’s coir industry hit by slowing demand for their products and lack of sufficient raw material, a recent study by a state government body has suggested a complete modernization of the sector.
The crisis leaves most coir workers with jobs for only about 200 days in a year.
Poor wages and other issues have already driven away more than half the 380,000 workers in the sector in 1988, when a previous survey was conducted.
But there’s still hope. As coir products are biodegradable, there is a potential to expand the global market and revive Kerala’s coir sector, said a report by the Kochi-based Centre for Socio-economic and Environmental Studies, or CSES, which conducted the study for the Directorate of Coir Development, a Kerala government agency.
The study has suggested that the Coir Board, a government trade promotion body, improve product diversification and design to meet demands, and develop efficiency by upgrading technology.
Coir products such as floormats, ropes, brushes and fillings for mattresses are made from the tough fibre of coconut husk.
Kerala, which accounts for more than 85% of the coir products made in the country, is home to 75,471 coir centres of which nearly 98% are home-based units, according to CSES. The remaining coir-making centres are run by co-operative societies or exporters.
Four-fifths of the home-based units are located in the coastal district of Alappuzha, with spinning of coir yarn as the main activity. Only a small section of the coir workers are engaged in weaving and extraction of fibre from coconut husk, and most of them depend on intermediaries for sourcing raw material.
While the home-based units are dependent on agents, according to the study, the coir yarn produced by primary societies has assured buyers in the network of coir cooperatives and the apex body of the primary societies, the Coirfed.
The study also found greater reluctance among the younger generation to join the coir sector, because of the low wages, changing aspirations, higher education levels and the availability of jobs in other sectors that pay better.
The current crisis is blamed on a number of factors, including the failure to upgrade technology, low rate of adoption of available technology, poor product diversification, the dominance of middlemen, and increasing competition from other natural and synthetic fibres.
To make the industry sustainable, the Directorate of Coir Development has suggested increasing the supply of husk by raising coconut production and through improved husk collection methods.
India exported 190,000 tonnes of coir products to more than 90 countries in 2007-08, earning Rs592.88 crore, according to the Coir Board.
The directorate has also recommended a higher, productivity-linked wage structure to make the sector attractive to a new set of workers, and a revamp of the management and organization in the cooperative sector.