Coir industry gets fresh boost

Friday, 24 February 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Top US Agency clears way, enlists Lankan made mats for restoration projects

In a new boost to Sri Lanka’s geo-textile industry and Sri Lanka’s standing as world’s largest exporter of coir fibre, a top US government agency has cleared the way for Sri Lankan made geo-textiles for two projects. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has waived its restrictions on use of foreign coir mats in US for Sri Lankan mats. The general restrictions for foreign coir mats have been imposed under the ‘Buy American requirements’ but US has specifically allowed Sri Lankan mats for two selected projects.

Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen examines a piece of Sri Lankan made one metre wide erosion control oriented high-grade geo-textile piece used to stabilise the embankments between Imaduwa and Baddegama stretch of new Southern Expressway, with University of Moratuwa Vice Chancellor Prof. A.K.W. Jayawardane (left) recently at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The rising global demand (exceeding 900 million square metres annually) for erosion control oriented geo-textiles such as these has resulted in a supply shortfall thereby creating a ready market for high quality Sri Lankan geo-textiles internationally.


The US EPA has allowed Sri Lankan and Indian made coir mats to be used in two riverbank restoration projects in Ohio.

The project specific waivers are extended to the Bear Creek Restoration Project in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, and the Laurel Creek Restoration Project in Twinsburg, Ohio.

 “This is a project-specific waiver and only applies to the use of the specified product for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded projects being proposed...The coir woven mats under consideration are manufactured in India and Sri Lanka and meet the projects’ technical specifications and requirements” the US EPA said.

The Bear Creek is a tributary to Wood Creek river and its banks are facing erosion. The Bear Creek project in Warrensville Heights, Ohio aims, among others, to restore 1,600 feet of Bear Creek riverbank using a two-stage channel design and bio elements to combat high storm water velocities. The significant erosion in the stream has affected the Clarkwood Parkway which is close to the road. Clarkwood School is also located nearby and City buses provide transportation for the students which drive over this location daily causing concern for the roadway integrity and the safety of the public. The project, Cuyahoga County Board of Health, aims at restoring the impacted tributary stream.

 “This shows the high quality of our coir-mats,” said Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen. “New technology infusion to our coir sector can greatly enhance our coir appeal in the competitive global marketplace. I am pleased to announce that an MoU between the University of Moratuwa and my Ministry of Industry and Commerce to support new coir machinery development processes has been signed on 5 January. I also handed over Rs. 1.25 million in additional financing to Department of Electrical Engineering of the Moratuwa University on 5 January to further develop the already successful coir automation machinery developed by the University with the assistance of Ministry of Industry and Commerce with initial financing in 2010 of only Rs.0.49 million” Minister Bathiudeen added.

The Sri Lankan coir fibre used as inputs for many products, is one of the most sought after natural fibre products in the world. Sri Lanka produces 35% of the world’s natural coir output. Almost all the coir fibre produced here are natural with no synthetic fibre produced. 90% of coir exports are in raw form. The raw coir is exported to UK, France, Germany, India and China.

The raw coir has the advantage of duty free entry for our coir export destinations but finished coir products exported are levied with various duties at the import country’s end. As a result, Sri Lanka coir exporters find raw coir exports to be more attractive.

According to the Export Development Board (EDB) the export revenue from coir based products from January to October 2011 stood at $ 51 million. Export revenue from raw coir during the same period stood at $ 39.7 million.  Around 200 coir mills are in operation in rural Sri Lanka mostly operating in primitive working conditions with out-dated technology (The industry is also faced with labour migration to other jobs and it has become difficult to get new recruits).

Seeing this trend, a new weaving machine has been developed by the Katubedde Engineering faculty successfully which increased the coir based geo-textile weaving speed by 35% while also reducing the number of labourers needed per machine from three to one. But the project was put on hold by the University due to lack of funds for further development. The Ministry of Industry and Commerce’ latest round of funding is aimed at reviving the project immediately.