Magic of coir

Magic of coir

Green initiatives

Magic of coir

Coir has a variety of uses, and the State’s Coir Board is creating awareness about its advantages. Coir geo-textile or ‘bhoovastra’ was first used to protect the Kabini canal embankment in Karnataka, discovers Anitha Pailoor.

‘Growers were taken by surprise when they learnt that coconut shell can also fetch them more money. Greater was their astonishment when they learnt that this fuel wood substitute could replace wood in different sectors,” says Shobha, who runs a coir processing unit in Gubbi taluk.

“With the change in lifestyles and mindsets, conventional coir products like coir matting no longer attract customers. Traditional objects which require human skill are now becoming a rarity. Instead we are trying to adapt to changing needs by designing gift articles, interior decorative articles etc,” says Vasudev, Senior Scientific Officer at Central Institute of Coir Technology, Bangalore.

Coir expo 2013, organised in February in Bangalore, featured a wide variety of utility items developed by various state and central government undertakings. The products ranged from toys and garden materials to furniture and clothing.

Apart from being used as firewood, coir was traditionally used as yarn, ropes and floor mats. With changing demands, it has emerged as one of the major eco-friendly substitutes to wood and synthetics.

Development of coir fibre composites is a milestone research of the Coir Board.  The Coir Board claims that one unit of coir ply with a production capacity of 40 cubic meters per day would save about 22 trees every year. Coir could be a good replacement for forest timber given its close resemblance to wood in its chemical composition and availability.

Eco-friendly substitute

The texture of composites is ethnic while it doesn’t require any lamination on its surface. It can replace plastic boards, MDF boards and wooden boards. It is resistant to termite and borer attacks, is flame retardant, boiling water resistant, and free from fungal growth. The coir composite has been approved by Bureau of Indian Standards, Indian Railways, Road Transport Corporation and it has been approved for roofing. Coir ply has also been used as shelters for the earth quake affected victims of Gujarat.

Coir fibre is one of the hardest natural fibres because of its high content of lignin. Coir is also used for erosion control, reinforcement and stabilisation of soil. It is preferred in agricultural application for its quality of moisture retention. It is naturally resistant to rot, mould and moisture.

Shivanapura Ramesh, who runs an organic nursery near Devanahalli in Bangalore, has been using coir pith since the last seven years. He prefers to use coir pith, from a one-year-old stock. Shivanapura Ramesh finds that coir pith catalyses rooting of the seedling while he rates its moisture retaining capacity as unique. It can hold water three times its weight without any leakage, thus making it an excellent soil conditioner. Coir pith has been widely used by gardeners and commercial nurseries.

Coir geo-textiles or ‘coir bhoovastra’ is used for stabilisation of soil through vegetation. This permeable fabric has a variety of applications as in soil erosion control, mine site reclamation, water shed management, mudwall reinforcement and landscaping.

In Karnataka, coir ‘bhoovastra’ was first used for the protection of Kabini canal embankment. Recently, coir ‘bhoovastra’ has been recommended to induce vegetation in Bellary where land is barren due to intense mining activities.

Market survey of the Coir Board says that basket liners, coco peat, coco lawn are in good demand. They also feel that coir composites have tremendous market potential. Another area of focus is a new range of garden articles and decorative materials from coir. “Our objective is creation of more employment opportunities in the rural areas.

Coir sector has tremendous potential and we are expecting entrepreneurs who could utilise the technology developed at research centres of the Coir Board. Labour problem is also significant. Now only 19 per cent of the total husk produced is utilised by the coir industry,” says M Sudhakaran Pillai, Joint Director, Central Institute of Coir Technology, Bangalore. The Institute’s interventions in mechanisation have helped entrepreneurs in the villages.

Papanna, a farmer in Arasikere taluk, had to look at other options when his crops started failing three years back. A regular supplier to the coir fibre industry near his village, he felt that coir processing could be a potential area. As a coconut grower, he had been following the strides in the sector, and fibre-making came up as a viable option. It didn’t take much time for him to approach the Coir Board and get necessary support. Now, after one year, he intends to move a step ahead and install curl making unit. Sudhakaran Pillai feels that lack of awareness about the advantage of products has led to entrepreneurs’ reluctance while non-availability of a critical mass of these products in the market is detrimental to its popularity with the potential customer. He also feels that coir products could even be procured by different government departments based on their requirement. A major share of Coir Board’s products is exported. The Board plans to launch a series of new products as well as initiatives to enhance its domestic sales.

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