It is easy to miss this nondescript building at Melakkal village in Madurai which houses the M.S. Rope Production Centre - a unit which generates an annual turnover of around ₹1 crore. This small unit was bustling with activity on Monday morning as women were busy converting banana fibre into ropes which are used to manufacture a wide range of products.
The proprietor, P.M. Murugesan, a farmer who dropped out of school when he was in Class 8, has fabricated three machines that could convert plantain waste into banana ropes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Mr. Murugesan’s agro-innovation in making wealth out of plantain waste during the recent Mann Ki Baat programme.
Mr. Murugesan said he had to drop out of school to help his father in agricultural activities. “Though we were traditionally into agriculture, wet did not earn much profits,” he said.
Being a banana farmer, Mr. Murugesan was overwhelmed by tonnes of waste (banana stem) that he had to dispose of from his fields. “Farmers usually burn tonnes of these waste or dump it into waterbodies,” he said.
It was in 2008 when Mr. Murugesan started thinking about ways to utilise the plantain waste. He hit upon an idea to make ropes from it. But his idea was ridiculed. After many trials and errors, he finally developed a handle rope machine - a spinning machine with pulleys. Now he has patented three machines used for converting banana waste into ropes.
He approached an incubator of Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, to market a few products made from banana waste. “Through the incubator, I received orders from abroad where the clients sought details on the rate of my products. I was overjoyed as it was the first time I was able to fix a price for my products. Usually, it is the commission agents who decide the price of crop cultivated by farmers,” he added.
Today, he has five units across Madurai district, employing around 350 women. About 50 types of products, including mats, bags, lamp holders and baskets, are manufactured out of banana waste. They are exported to many countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, Singapore, France and Malaysia. “These products have a huge demand in foreign countries as they are biodegradable alternative to plastic products. It is economical and totally organic too,” he said.
Mr. Murugesan has conducted many workshops across the country, encouraging farmers to make banana ropes. He has also received many awards from the Union and State governments in recognition of his work.