When research sends catamarans to the sea

Saving our greenery is a priority.

Saving our greenery is a priority.  

BEING SLAPPED with a bill of Rs. 30,000 for a catamaran is a bit much for the poor fisherfolk of coastal Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to swallow. But if the bill were halved, a new fishing vessel could be affordable, with some loans. That was exactly what happened to them. The catamarans are make of increasingly scarce timber (the preferred wood is Abizia Chinensis — albissi in Tamil, reyya in Telugu, and bage in Kannada), and it took the technology of the Bangalore-based Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST) to bail them out.

Unbridled deforestation of our forests has made timber scarce, sending the prices skyrocketing. IWST used an alternative timber, Bombax Ceiba (buruga in Telugu and Kannada and parutte illavam in Tamil) after treating it with copper chrome arsenic (CCA). If untreated, Bombax Ceiba lasts just six month in the sea. But CCA-treated catamarans have been going to the sea for more than 16 years, and are still in excellent condition without any fungal or borer attack.

K. Satyanarayana Rao, Director, IWST, is the brain behind the discovery of alternative and cheap wood for the catamarans. He has more than 38 years of experience in wood science and has been striving to safeguard the diminishing conventional wood species through his research work. A winner of the International Roncockroft Award and the Enra and Isea Gold Medal, Dr. Rao strongly believes that all the fruits of research should reach the common man.

The institute also trains carpenters and professionals in wood industries and students in its advanced wood technology. Practising carpenters in groups of five and above can approach it for advanced technology in wood sciences and furniture making. "We conduct training classes for industries by deputing our scientists and technicians. Personnel from Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam, and Karnataka State Forest Department are among those who have been trained in wood technology," says Dr. Rao.

IWST encourages people villagers to grow wood-yielding plantation crops and to use alternative non-conventional and durable wood to make their professional tools instead of diminishing species like teak. It also has been involved in planting teak.

According to Pankaj Aggarwal, one of the scientists here, demonstration plantations of teak involving 1.27 lakh teak saplings were sown 10 years ago by the farmers of Devanahalli Taluk in Karnataka and and Chandragiri Mandal in Andhra Pradesh. They are now magnificent groves.

In its field demos on the use of alternative wood, IWST educates villagers on the use of eucalyptus and rubber wood.The institute has developed the sap displacement technique, a simple preservative treatment for the freshly felled bamboo and eucalyptus poles, to enable them to last for about 15 years, compared to untreated ones that have a life of just one or two years. It has designed a low cost portable distillation unit, with detachable parts, for the distillation of oils from aromatic crops, a boon for small farmers and small-scale distillers.

The institute's origin goes back to 1938, when the Government of Mysore set up the Forest Research Laboratory (FRL), which did a commendable work on timber species, essential oils, non-wood forest products, and protection of wood and trees from pests and diseases. In 1956, the Forest Research Institute and College, Dehra Dun, took over this lab and turned it into its regional centre for the South. In 1977, in the same campus, a sandal research centre was set up to undertake work on genetics, silviculture, and management of sandal. The same year, marine centres of the Wood Preservation Branch, Forest Research Institutes and Colleges, functioning at Visakhapatnam, Madras, Goa and Kochi, were transferred to FRL, Bangalore. A Minor Forest Products Unit also started the same year. In 1988, the FRL was upgraded as the Institute of Wood Science and Technology under the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE).


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