Thousands of quintals of coir yarn are lying unsold in the godowns of coir societies

Thirty-two women, many past 60 and faces creased with worry, sit under the bleak light of a 40-watt bulb dangling over them on a coir rope as P. Sasindran, president of the Kadalundi Coir Vyavasaya Cooperative Society, reads out the society’s sales figures from a register book. What is written in the book further deepens the lines on their faces. The account book shows that in 2012-13 sales have dipped to an all-time low.

Nine hundred bundles of coir yarn worth over Rs.5 lakh have been lying stacked at the society’s godown for the past one year. With no takers, the bundles are rotting.

The rest of the society’s 142-strong women workforce had not even bothered to make an appearance at the board meeting. Many have already left to become construction and road labourers under the MGNREGS.

“Before every meeting, I think I should not go. Why make myself sad? But then habit takes over and I attend,” P. Valli, who has been with the society for over 50 years, said.

She confesses to a gnawing fear that the society, launched in 1958, is slowly limping to a stop. And for women like her, who form the backbone of the traditional coir industry, it may end up as a life-changer.

But on July 6, the women, who are also shareholders in the society, had put a brave face before Coir Minister Adoor Prakash at a function in Alappuzha to award them the best primary coir cooperative society in Kozhikode for 2011-2012.

“What do you expect? Cry in front of everyone, make a spectacle?” P. Sathi, who started spinning yarn since she was seven, said.

“Those days my mother and I used to walk to the Kadalundi river banks once a week to collect coconut husks the society people would bring in by boat. The society did not have a building then. So we used to carry home as much husks as we could on our head. There, we would beat them and spin the fibre into yarn. I have been doing this all my life,” Ms. Sathi said.

Workers blame the slump in sales on the lack of initiative shown by Kerala State Cooperative Coir Marketing Federation (Coirfed) Ltd.

A series of skewed government orders and fears of environmental pollution have also accelerated the decline in labour strength and sales.

“Over 7,000 quintals of coir yarn is lying in the godowns of 54 cooperative societies across the district. Coirfed has not been able to sell them for the societies. Half of these societies are closed unable to survive the strain. An inter-supportive scheme, launched in 2010, by which Coirfed would buy the products from the societies and the government would reimburse the federation has performed abysmally,” Vishnu Namboodiri, district-in-charge, Coir Project, said.

Records with the Kadalundi society show that the cooperative earned Rs.15.94 lakh in 2010-2011. The succeeding year shows a drop in sales to Rs.10.38 lakh. In 2012-13, the sales slid to Rs.8.30 lakh.

“It has been a year since Coirfed stopped taking yarn. It says it has enough stock and cannot sell all of it,” Anitha C.K., secretary, Kadalundi coir society.

The society is surviving on a spill-over of Rs.2.43 lakh from last year’s sick units revival grant. This amount will pay the wages for the next three months.

But the government has added to the financial burden of the cooperative societies with a direction to increase daily wages from Rs.210 to Rs. 260.

“This wage increase of Rs.50 has to be met by primary societies like ours from May 2013. But we have no funds to implement it. First of all, we are barely managing here. What is the point of increasing wages if there is no work for the worker? On the other hand, our workers are still willing to take a wage cut if they can help us with good marketing and sales,” Ms. Anitha said.

Mr. Sasindran said a government move in 2007-2008 asking societies to stop the practice of using rutted husks and opt for raw fibre had proved counterproductive.

This, societies say, was done citing reduced manufacturing expenses and eco-friendliness. But the move eventually proved fatal for sales.

“Simple reason is stronger yarn is made of coconut husks buried in riverside mud. But the government said retting is harmful to the Kadalundi river and the adjacent bird sanctuary,” he said.

“Most of the women employed are aged. They cannot work at a construction site. When we tell them of our dire straits, they sit in front of us and cry,” Mr. Sasindran said.

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