Those who have a taken a cruise along the backwaters of Kollam wouldn't have missed the pleasing visuals of villagers engaged in the manufacturing of coir. The women folk and the weaving wheels work intimately to fabricate one of the strongest threads in the world - coir, the golden fibre of Kerala.
Coconut fibre extracted from coconut husks is used in the making of coir. With the abundance of coconut tree Kerala has become an ideal locale for coir industry. Kerala is the home of Indian coir industry, particularly white fibre, accounting for 61 per cent of coconut production and over 85 per cent of coir products. Around 50 per cent of the available coir husk is used to produce coir products. Though the use of coir in Kerala dates back to several centuries, an organised coir industry emerged only in the mid-19th century when an Irishman, James Darragh, set up the country's first coir factory at Alappuzha.
For the people living by the side of the backwaters of Alappuzha and Kollam districts coir making is their primary occupation. Coir industry is one of the major traditional industries in the State and second only to agriculture in terms of employment. It provides employment to around 4 lakh persons, of which 84% are women.
In the hands of master craftsmen this raw and rough coir is given magical textures and are turned into a number of products. Traditionally it has been used to make rope, twine, brooms and brushes, doormats, rugs, mattresses and other upholstery. Among the innumerable products made of the resilient and durable coir fiber the most sough-after products are mat and bed.
The popularity of the value-added products such as coir pith and coco lawn is attractive for the coir industry Coir pith the by-product of coir industry is a soil conditioner. Since it absorbs and retains water easily it is in high demand in water scarce areas.Today, coir and coir products of Kerala are said to be the finest in the world. Following the worldwide shift toward eco-friendly products there is an increasing demand for the coir products of Kerala in the international market, especially in Africa, Latin America and Middle East.