Coir originates from the Malayalam word ‘kayar’. India and Sri Lanka manufacture 90% of the coir produced every year. Pollachi and the coastal region of Kerala State together produces around 20% of the total world supply of white coir fibre. Structured coconut cultivation started in Kerala only after the arrival of the Portugese. “Kera” in Malayalam language means Coconut and “Alam” means Land, thus Keralam means the Land of Coconuts. Interestingly, Kerala’s culture to its cuisine revolves around the coconut tree.
The coir manufacturing industry producing coir mats and other floor coverings started over a century back when the first factory was set up in Alleppey in 1859 by the late Mr. James Darragh, an Irish born American. He obtained the help of a foreign trader, Henry Smail and the factory became known as “Darragh Smail & Company”. Enterprising Indian entrepreneurs followed the trail set by Darragh.
Following this, the royal family of Holland formed the Royal United Carpet Factory at Aroor and the royal family of Travancore became major shareholders. India’s link with the British rule facilitated English investors to expand this product sector in Kerala, home to coir.
This perhaps established the industry so firmly in India, especially in Kerala, even though coconut production was significantly high in many other countries including Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.Kerala also has a very fine natural harbour located at Cochin (Kochi).
Kerala’s geographical location provides good climate for large scale cultivation of coconut palms. Virtual forests of coconut palm spread across these flat, green lands provide a unique and distinct facility for the retting of coconut husks. Since coir yarn and fibre could be transported economically by well-developed water transport to Alleppey, coir industrial units came to be concentrated in and around Alleppey due to the availability of cheap labour and the abundance of raw material.
Another key factor that aided the foundation of the coir spinning industry in Kerala is the presence of brackish backwaters and lagoons that had to be replenished by fresh water at frequent intervals to wash away the water polluted in the process of retting of husks, and Kerala was naturally endowed with this potential.
Coir, being a natural environment friendly material is now seen as the fibre of the future. Indian Coir Fibre, unofficially known as ‘golden fibre’, captured European and world markets in no time. Today, Alleppey is the hub of Kerala’s famous Coir industry. The Coir Industry enjoys the status as the largest cottage industry in Kerala, giving employment to over a million people. The industry provides direct employment to more than 3.5 lakhs workers, 80% of whom are women mainly involved in the yarn spinning sector. The men are involved in the product-weaving sector. Vital constituents in the coir sector are Co-operatives, Private, Public, Government undertakings and unorganized production units.
The Co-operative Sector significantly organizes individual households to participate in coir manufacturing activities and reap the benefits of organised purchase of raw materials and shared facilities. Kerala alone has 620 primary societies and 43 manufacturing societies.
Activities in the coir sector consist of securing of the main raw material, coconut husk, defibring of husks, spinning of coir yarn, manufacturing of ropes, weaving and marketing of products both in India and abroad.
The export figures have moved up. However the industry though more than 150 years old, has yet to achieve professional approach and strength to be competent in the industry.