The pandemic period is not a barrier to innovation. Though 2020 was challenging to all, some good news is coming from some coconut-producing countries. Although some restrictions are still in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s coir and products exports to western countries are booming. Desiccated coconut export from Indonesia in 2020 increased significantly by 66% against the previous year’s revenue, and the activated carbon export from the Philippines in 2020 also increased 3,4%. Many customers, having been forced to spend more time at home, are undertaking home improvement projects and are building makeshift home offices under the concept of “Do it Yourself”. Replacement of old coir carpets and mats with new ones enabled India to fetch more orders. Fear of transmission of coronavirus through old doormats also pushed people to change them frequently. A report from The Hindu Business Line cited in this Cocommunity edition says that “Work from home” in the west boosts India’s coir exports. A lot of exporters in India have their order books full for printed vinyl backed coir doormats, rubber mats, jute rugs, rubber polypropylene from the markets of the US, Europe, South America, Far East, and Asia Pacific. Decorating their homes to keep them up-to-date has enabled coir producers to get good orders. Production capacity has been raised to 120%. At present, shipments are around 1,000 containers a month. In this edition, the readers will find innovative value-added products invented in Kerala, turning coconut water into vegan leather to make textured, water-resistant leather used in bags, pouches, wallets, and shoes. Environmentalists have long been protesting against the leather industry that is cruel towards animals, and leaves a substantial ecological impact. Malai, a start-up company, with only has ten people, has created a vegan alternative to leather that is biodegradable eco-friendly to make and dispose of. Its primary raw material is Nata de Coco bacterial cellulose. This water from mature coconuts is fermented to create cellulose. The cellulose is then enriched with fibers from hemp, sisal, and banana stems and refined into sheets of grey material. This PETA-approved organization is currently working in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology to improve their material and make it affordable. Another simple but innovative product created by a women-only Bengaluru, India, start-up that is making an eco-friendly straw from fallen coconut leaves. Fallen coconut leaves are usually the residue left at many farms. The start-up collects discarded coconut leaves from the farms, making straws after the leaves go through a rigorous cleaning process. These straws are sturdy and remain intact in liquid for a long duration. The midribs that hold the leaves are used to make brooms. The startup employs 15 women from nearby areas with an economically poor background. The products are exported to Canada, Australia, Germany, and UAE. The need of resilience during COVID-19 led to the invention of value-added and eco-friendly products. There is a vast range of innovations that need to be explored: from the simplest but socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable technologies that are applicable in rural areas to the hi-tech Digital 4.0 technologies; from small and medium enterprises to large scale industries. The sky is only the limit to creativity.
DR. JELFINA C. ALOUW