Coir Manufacture in the Doldrums
B A Prakash
COIR., one of Indians major cottage industries., earned foreign exchange to the tune ofRs 19.35 crores in 1975-76.1 It is estimated that about 4.5 lakhs of people are directly, and 10 lakhs indirectly, employed in coir-making,2 more than 90 per cent of them concentrated in the densely populated coastal areas ofKerala.3 A sectorwise analysis of employment shows that, of the total number of workers, about 47 per cent are engaged in spinning, 26 per cent in beating husks and cleaning fibre, 10 per cent in retting and the remaining 17 per cent in manufacturing.4 Coir goods are made mainly on the small-scale handlooms. The producers have been facing a crisis compounded of such problems as low demand, acute unemployment and underemployment, dual prices (in export and domestic markets) and mechanization. This report pertains to a survey aimed at gauging the gravity of the problem by estimating employment in the small-scale handloom units and studying the conditions of workers. It also seeks to examine the dual price system—fixed for export, and open for domestic markets—and the problems connected with mechanization.
Factories Fade Out
The continuous decline of private manufacturer-cum-exporter type of coir firms at Alleppey since the 1940s led to the emergence of a large number of handloom units, most of them working on less than five looms and employing upto ten workers. To quote Kerala State Planning Board's task force report on traditional industries for the fifth five-year plan, "A large number of factories in the Alleppey-Shertallay area engaged in the manufacture of coir products are gradually closing down. The unemployed labour in these factories have to be provided with employment. For this purpose, the workers have to be organized into cooperative societies and factories purchased by these societies."5 The subcommittee of Kerala state's Coir Advisory Board speaks in a 1970 report in terms of ^disintegration": ^While in early 40s the number of workers in the mats and matting manufacturing industry was 35,000, at present there are only 2500 workers in the organized sector."6