Staff Reporter

ALAPPUZHA: Many of them come from nations where the coconut tree is not a strange plant. But then, floorings, mats, carpets, bags, wall hangings and several other products made from the tree's golden fibre were a surprise for delegates of the Commonwealth-India Small Business Competitiveness Development Programme who visited the district on Wednesday.

Surprise and appreciation dominated the mood as the 69 delegates, most of them women and led by Commonwealth Secretariat official Mark Smith saw for themselves what was being done at the Cherthala Kattachira Coir Primary Society, small scale production units at Kalavoor, Central Coir Research Institute, Kalavoor, and finally, Foam Mattings (India) Limited (FOMIL), a Central undertaking in Alappuzha.

The modern dye house at FOMIL, its fully automatic power-loom, spinning of coir, extraction of the fibre, colouring methods and other processes had the visitors in awe.

As Mr. Smith, later, remarked, the visit had enthused them enough to return to their countries and make efforts to take up similar projects.

Coir Board chairman A.C. Jose explained the surprise element, saying that though most of the 33 countries that had representatives in the delegation were coconut tree cultivators, none of them ever knew that the fibre could be a major industry.

FOMIL chairman K.R. Bhageerathan said the PSU had begun foraying into the market and was looking to gain a foothold in other countries as well.

While tie-ups with Consumerfed and Supplyco among others would take care of the market foray in Kerala, agencies were being set up in the United Kingdom, Singapore, Kenya and others to take FOMIL's coir products across the seas.

FOMIL managing director S. Ratnakumaran, pointing out that the company was on the path to making profits from the next fiscal, informed the delegates that the production costs were being reduced.