Coconut Shells-Boost To The Rural Economy

via PIB published on April 10, 2007

By Sudha S Namboothiry


In the hands of a beggar a coconut shell serves as his begging bowl, in the hands of an artist it turns into a thing of beauty, it provides the humble housewife with a brightly burning fire to cook her simple fare, it lets the chemist unlock its secrets and yields a dozen new things. Such is the coconut shell, a versatile part of the world’s most versatile tree the coconut palm…’ Dr W. R. N. Nathanael.


Under the expert hands of an artisan not just the Coconut shell but coconut leaf midribs, coconut wood, coconut spathe, coconut stipule husk are all turned into all sort of handicrafts and utility articles!  There was a time when coconut shell was seen as either a poor man’s bowl or for domestic fire wood. Of course there were limited diversified products of coconut shell like the coconut shell ladle and spoons. But the latest diversified products from coconut has been unheard. Artisans who found dearth of wood with dwindling forests, have found a new expression through this medium.


Popularity of Coconut Products


Coconut shell has already won both the domestic and international market. With eco-friendly and biodegradable concepts gaining popularity in developed nations, the biodegradable and organic coconut shell has regained its glory as a natural container. In Spain, Italy, France and European countries coconut shells in the form of ice cream cups, forks, spoons and hookahs are in high demand. Today, export enquiries received from countries like USA, Netherland and Austria and western countries are more than the total production of coconut shell in the country. Shell buttons for garments are also being exported from India.


Boost To The Rural Economy


The best part of the coconut shell is that it is biodegradable and durable. Since the coconut shell is hard and  abrasive resistant, it can be smothered carved and polished with maximum finish. There are hundreds of cottage industries in Kerala which manufacture wide varieties of exquisite shell crafts like flower vase, paper weights, rings, decorative masks, figures of gods etc. Majority of artisans who use coconut shell as medium are from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Late Shri Kumaran Achary from Cherai, a coastal village in Vyppin Island in Ernakulam district has left many memorable carvings in coconut shell. His creative crafts have helped in infusing artistic mind in younger generation and has helped in developing domestic market. Similarly there are many other units in this tiny island which have come out with indigenous artifacts to lure domestic and international customers. The Coconut Development Board, Cochin under the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India is always in search of talented artisans for converting the coconut shell and wood based products into high value utility material. It has played a key role in developing and establishing rural artisans units in various parts of the country.  This in turn has given a face lift to the rural economy through employment generation and value additions of the byproducts.


Coconut Shell—– Immense Possibilities


Coconut shell like the coconut tree itself has immense possibilities. Coconut shell is today being used commercially for manufacture of coconut shell powder, coconut shell charcoal and activated carbon. These value additions go a long way in increasing farm level income which is prerequisite for making the coconut industry globally competitive.


Coconut shell powder is extensively used as compound filler in the plastic industry, synthetic resin glues and as filler-cum-extender for phenolic molding powder. This unique product is used for specialized surface finishes, mastic adhesives, mild abrasive products and polyester type laminates. In India, the coconut shell powder is extensively used in agarbathi, mosquito coils etc. At present there are about 25 shell powder producing units in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka & Northern Kerala manufacturing about 1500 tonnes of the products on an annual basis.


Coconut shell charcoal finds wide use as a fuel and a base material for the manufacture of activated carbon. This activated carbon is the widely accepted material for application in pollution control and removal of colour odour of compounds, air purifications, purification of industrial as well as potable water. It is also used in refining and bleaching of viable oils and chemical solutions. India has not fully utilized the large quantity of coconut shell indigenously available mainly for want of know-how. Yet there are a few units in Kerala and Tamil Nadu set up with foreign collaboration which are producing  excellent quality of  activated carbon with imported technologies.


The Coconut Development Board under the Ministry of Agriculture is promoting industries for commercial production of products and by products from coconut. The Board has succeeded in developing coconut based engine oil with expertise from the Cochin University of Science and Technology. And with the help of the Technology Mission on Coconut greater milestones in this sector will be attained.

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