How traditional, environment-friendly industries hold the key to India achieving its climate target

Climate change bestows a great opportunity to the industries producing environment-friendly goods, to enhance its potential to meet both domestic and global market expectations

Surjith Karthikeyan December 20, 2021 07:33:48 IST
How traditional, environment-friendly industries hold the key to India achieving its climate target

Coir market in Salem. Image courtesy Thamizhpparithi Maari/Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Panchamrits’ highlighted by India at COP26 Summit in Glasgow bestows a great opportunity to the industries producing environment-friendly goods, to enhance their potential to meet both domestic and global market expectations. Reducing the total projected carbon emissions and carbon intensity of its economy coupled with the target of Net Zero 2070, may facilitate this sector’s market growth, which is mostly based on traditional industries.

Promotion of environment-friendly products is both job creating and development-friendly, the best examples being investment in solar technology, traditional environment-friendly yarn, etc. Various alternatives are also being explored for the replacement of synthetic yarn with coir yarn and so on. The best example being the benefits of coir geotextile in preventing soil erosion, at the same time environment friendly compared to synthetic geotextiles.

Internationally, geotextiles are generally made from plastics or some other non-degradable raw materials. Coir geotextiles or Coir Bhoovastra have shot into the limelight today due to its eco-friendly characteristics. It is the latest development in this field and has been identified as a major product with huge market potential in multidisciplinary geotextile engineering applications. They are being effectively used for improving soil behaviour, preventing soil erosion and in helping the consolidation of soil.

Coir as 100 percent organic biodegradable fibre, with great water-absorbing, has a definite edge over synthetic geotextiles in the environmental aspect. The greatest advantage is that it provides an ecological niche for the rapid establishment for vegetation. The potential applications of coir geotextiles include streambank protection, shoreline stabilisation, separation applications in rural roads, railways, parking and storage areas, landscaping, agriculture applications, flood control, etc., and thus there is great demand for this product.

The demand for environment-friendly carpets is increasing mainly due to the need for using it as floor tiles and the ability of those mattings to prevent the flow of dust. Coir and Jute carpets contribute to a major chunk of this trade being 100 percent environment-friendly and its availability of raw materials in India. In India, the important jute products exported are tarpaulin, sacks and other types of products.

The coir and jute industries are major traditional industries in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala Tamil Nadu and adjacent states and UTs like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Orissa, Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshadweep and Puducherry, and these are witnessing crisis due to the high price of its raw materials compared to its substitutes such as plastic and synthetic ones. Due to the serious efforts by the Central and respective state governments through Jute Matting Development Council and Coir Board, they were able to cope up with the competition to a certain extent.

The growth of the handloom sector of Kerala and Tamil Nadu had paved the way for the manufacturing of jute products from the late 90s, in addition to the coir mats and mattings mainly contributed by the exporting firms concentrated over here. The technological innovations, markets and marketing practices in these industries have also grown to a great extent. The professionals, especially the design engineers of these exporting firms’ continuous innovation in mats and mattings in its styles, textures, colours, helps them to present these products in the international trade fairs conducted by the Government of India. This helps the firms to capture the international markets.

The jute and coir industry absorbs large labour force in its various phases of production activities. The wage rate prevailing in the exporting firms are synonymous with the efforts incurred in various production activities in this industry. These industries have been emerging as important agro-based industries in these states. At the same time, there exist key problems that need to be addressed immediately.

The workers in these industries are directly and indirectly employed. The direct workers are those directly employed in the exporting firms. This includes office staff, skilled workers, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The workers directly employed in the firms get all the benefits and allowances like dearness allowance, bonus, provident fund, gratuity, festival allowance, etc, according to the rules fixed by the government. In addition, there are indirect employees, including thousands of workers employed in the factories of small-scale producers. These factories’ average employed persons per unit ranges from 10 to 30 workers. The workers may be skilled or unskilled and get wages for the work done per day including bonuses only, as the small-scale producers are subcontracting orders from exporting firms at a fixed rate.

Nowadays, young men are mostly interested in information technology sectors and other white-collar jobs. Thus the workers in the weaving sector are very few, being a key issue faced in this sector. There are large numbers of small scale producers in the manufacturing sector and the orders are distributed widely, and thus workers get work only for a particular period, lacking continuity in the working process in units of small producers.

The unavailability of skilled workers results in the deterioration of the quality of products made by handlooms. The trend seen in the exporting sector is that the buyers are attracted mostly towards innovative and quality jute products preferably mattings, as it is affordable and thus arises the requirement of skilled labourers specialised in jute matting. In most of the exporting firms, mechanised and semi-mechanised looms have already replaced handlooms. Considering these traditional industries’ scope and potential, authorities concerned may be required to take necessary effective steps for facilitating the growth of this sector.

Surjith Karthikeyan is an Indian Economic Service (2010) Officer. The views expressed are personal.

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