Society

Treasure out of trash

INNOVATIVE: P.M. Murugesan, who runs a banana rope making unit. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

P.M. Murugesan’s factory at Melakkal functions out of a single room. Sitting cross-legged on the cemented floor, he and his employees are busy braiding ropes and weaving baskets. Mounds of pale yellow-coloured dried banana sheaths lie beside them. Murugesan picks a handful of the raw fibre, spins it on a bicycle wheel and in few seconds coils of rope roll out. The farmer-turned-entrepreneur has become the talk of the town for his innovative attempts to convert banana farm waste into valuable eco-friendly products. The colourful bags, baskets, table mats and window screens made out of banana ropes are now finding customers all over the world.

Hailing from an agriculture family, Murugesan saw struggles early in life. Repeated failure of crops forced him to drop out of middle school and soon he took up various steps to revive his father’s farm. Even the intervention from the State Agriculture Department didn’t fetch the desired result and Murugesan chose to tread a different path.

“My entry into the business is purely accidental,” gushes Murugesan. “It struck me that if banana thread can be used for tying flowers, it could as well be used for making baskets and mats. Then we decided to turn the tables of banana wastes which were either burnt or dumped as garbage.” Each plantain stem has a dozen sheaths out of which two outer sheaths are discarded. The remaining 10 sheaths are dried evenly under sunlight for two or three days to prevent discolouration and fungus formation. Murugesan procures the raw material from villages in and around Melakkal, Thiruvedagam and Sholavandan and uses up to 20000 banana stems a month.

He found good tensile strength in banana rope. “But, making ropes out of banana sheaths isn’t an easy task,” says Murugesan. After a number of trial-and-error method, he developed a spinning machine using bicycle wheel rims and pulleys. The strands are twisted or braided together in order to combine and strengthen them. He made sure the products made out of them are value for money.

Recently, Murugesan also got the machine patented and uses around four of such machines to produce 8000 to 10,000 metres of ropes in a day. His workforce of forty rural women weaves around 60 to 80 mats and 40 to 45 baskets in a day.

Murugesan has also started to make bed sheets out of banana strands, though he outsources the work to Erode and Karur. He makes around 20 products ranging from window screens, basket base and lids, six to seven varieties of bags, cups and storage containers.

“In order to market these products, I took the guidance of the experts from IIT Madras who under the village development scheme are supporting me,” says Murugesan, whose products now get exported to England, France, Singapore and Malaysia. The cottage industry also provides employment opportunities to women from Melakkal, Tharapatti, Keezhamathur and Kathirayirruppu villages.

Murugesan is a recipient of a number of national awards for excellence and innovation in agriculture. He has received the best PMEGP (Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme) Award from Khadi and Village Industries Commission under the Ministry of Micro, small and Medium Enterprises, Best Agri Entrepreneurship Award from Chief Minister of Gujarat, National Farmer Scientist Award from Union Ministry for Agriculture and Best Entrepreneur Award from Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Jabalpur.

His success has motivated many others to start similar banana rope making units in Theni, Kallupatti, Salem and Gandhigram.

Murugesan is now gearing up to visit North Eastern states and train tribal women in the craft.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 2:35:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/treasure-out-of-trash/article7255736.ece

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