Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


4.1 Introduction
4.2 Historical Background
4.3 Government Efforts Promoting the Small-Scale Sector
4.4 Processing and Ancillary Industries
4.5 The Industry Today
4.6 Issues and Constraints
4.7 Recommendations

by: J.C. Tandon


4.1 Introduction

Wooden match production in India is split into three sectoral categories: the mechanized large-scale sector; the handmade small-scale sector; and the cottage sector. 82% of total match production is in the handmade small-scale (67%) and cottage (15%) sectors, where technology has remained relatively simple. These two non-mechanized sectors of the match industry are distinguished primarily by output size. Officially, the cottage industry in match making is defined as any manual production unit producing less than 75,000 cases of match boxes per year.

The industry as a whole directly employs an estimated 250,000 people, with only 6,000 of these in the mechanized sector. The cottage sector, which involves totally manual operations and produces less than 75 million match sticks per year and is often household-based, accounts for about 50,000 workers. Thus, small-scale, factory-based match production units employ by far the largest number of people (195,000 workers) involved in the match sector.

As is the case with many FBSSEs the production of wooden matches is highly suited to handmade, household-based production. For every 6 workers employed in the mechanized sector, 22 can be employed in the non-mechanized sector. Men, women, children, the elderly and partially handicapped persons can all be employed. Match making by hand is labour-intensive. It requires low levels of technology and relatively small capital investments. A number of operations in the production process can be easily undertaken at home. These factors clearly demonstrate the significant socio-economic value of small-scale match production. Recognizing this, Indian government policies have consistently favored the handmade sector. All future expansion of the match industry is reserved for this sector, with particular emphasis on the cottage sector.

Only one unit represents the mechanized sector, namely M/s Wimco Ltd. Wimco contributes about 18% of current match production with five factories situated in Ambarnath (near Bombay, Maharashtra), Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), Calcutta (West Bengal), Dhubri (Assam) and Madras (Tamil Nadu).

The strongholds of the small-scale, non-mechanized sector are in the Ramanathapuram and Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu in South India, where 67% of India’s matches are produced. These districts are in a very dry, unirrigated area where the rural population has traditionally been extremely poor. The cottage sector, responsible for the remaining 15% of match production is distributed all over the country in small production units, although a large proportion of these are also in South India.

The veneering and splint industry in the adjoining state of Kerala is an important ancillary industry, providing nearly 90% of the wood used in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala there is a tradition of practicing farm forestry on home gardens and around plantations. Farm forestry is now being promoted by the State Forest Department.

The following case study describes the development of the match industry in southern India over the last several decades. In particular it highlights the effects of concerted government efforts to encourage the small-scale sector. The study also points out some important issues and constraints including a chronic shortage of raw materials which many FBSSEs face the world over.

Firsthand and secondary data for the study were drawn from various sources in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Various commissions and institutes involved not only in match making but also in the cottage, small and medium industry sectors were consulted. Interviews of several entrepreneurs in the non-mechanized or unorganized sector provided further information on small-scale match enterprises. Data from Wimco, one of the oldest wood processing and professionally managed private sector enterprises in India, contributed much of the information used in the analysis of the organized sector.

4.2 Historical Background

The origin of the safety match industry in India goes back to the beginning of this century. Around 1910 immigrant Japanese families who settled in Calcutta began making matches with simple hand- and power-operated machines. Local people soon learned the necessary skills and a number of small match factories sprang up in and around Calcutta.

These small match factories could not meet the total requirements of the country however, and India began to import matches from Sweden and Japan. During the First World War, when Swedish matches could not be imported, the Indian market was fed mainly by imported matches from Japan and by the locally made ones which followed the Japanese pattern introduced in Calcutta.

After the war, factories in Calcutta were unable to compete with imports, and handmade match production shifted to southern India, especially in the Ramanathapuram and Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu State. This shift was due to the pioneering efforts of P. Iya Nadar and A. Shanmuga Nadar who went to Calcutta to learn the process from Purna Chandra Ray, a local businessman, who had learned the trade in Germany. The Nadars set up a number of manual match production units in extremely poor regions of Tamil Nadu, where a combination of the dry climate, cheap labour and availability of raw materials from nearby Kerala created ideal conditions for match production. The first sulphur match that would bum when brought into contact with a rough surface was produced in South India in 1923, and the first safety match, in the form we know today, in 1932.

Mechanization came to the Indian match industry in 1924 when M/s Wimco, Ltd. (Wimco), started operations in 1924 as a unit of the multinational Swedish Match Company. Wimco is still the only representative of the large scale sector in wooden match manufacturing and is the only fully mechanized match factory in the country.

During the past three decades, the Indian match industry grew especially rapidly. Government policies protected Indian matches by placing protective tariffs on imported products and specifically favored the expansion of the handmade, small-scale sector through the use of differential excise taxes. There are now 12,000 units in the small-scale, non-mechanized sector, of which 75% to 90% are situated in Southern India.

4.3 Government Efforts Promoting the Small-Scale Sector

Indian government policies have played an important role in the development of the match industry as a whole and in the encouragement and protection of the small-scale sector for the last fifty years. Protective tariffs, differential excise duties and sales tax exemption are some of the mechanisms used by central and state governments to develop the industry.

4.3.1 Protective Tariffs

Government assistance was first expressed 1922 through the imposition of a high rate (Rs. 1.50 per gross of boxes)8 of import tax on foreign matches. This tax was later confirmed as a protective tariff in 1928, and attracted a number of new entrepreneurs, with both semi-mechanized and handmade factories, to the industry. Imports dropped by 50% within a five year period.

8 One gross = 144. Match production is usually measured in boxes. Each match box contained approximately 60 match sticks initially, new standards mandate that each box contain 50 sticks.

4.3.2 Differential Excise Duties

In 1934 excise duty was first levied on matches at a rate of Rs 1.50 per gross, as a revenue measure to compensate for the fall in the government’s income through the customs tariff in the wake of the sharp decline in imports. This was doubled to Rs 3.00 per gross in 1940 and stayed at that level until 1942. During this 8-year period, the excise duty was uniformly applied to all manufacturers of matches.

In 1943 a major change in policy was introduced with the differential excise levy. The rate remained unchanged at Rs 3.00 per gross for units producing over 100 gross per day while it was lowered to Rs 2.87 per gross for units producing less than 100 gross per day. Over the next ten years further classification resulted in 5 levels of production with progressive concessions to smaller units. In 1967 the basis for differentiation was expanded to include the mode of production as well as the volume produced. This decision further strengthened the small-scale enterprises and remains as a main plank of government policies in the present. In 1979 an even more dramatic spread in excise duties was mandated, raising the duties of the mechanized sector and lowering those in the handmade sector. Most recently, production limits on the middle and cottage sectors have been removed with an excise duty of Rs 3.50 per gross established on both. The objectives of these decisions were to:

- ensure the acceleration in the share of the cottage sector at the expense of the mechanized sector and the larger non-mechanized handmade sector;

- increase employment, particularly in rural areas;

- to minimize the impact of match price increases to the consumer.

The differential levies in force in 1981 and 1985 are illustrated in Table 4.1:

TABLE 4.1 Excise Duty Structure for a Box of 50 Sticks

(Rs. per gross match box)





Wood and Cardboard











(below 100 million boxes per annum)




* Essentially this belongs to the hand-made sector, but according to recent regulation even if a single process is done by powered machine except word processing, the process is called semi-mechanized.

** As per latest regulations, if the hand-made sector uses ready-made printed boxes, they ill have to pay Rs 4.15 per gross, i.e., the rate applicable to the semi-mechanized sector.

4.3.3 State Sales Tax Exemption

Additional incentives to hand-made match production units have been given by state governments in the form of sales tax exemptions.

4.3.4 Production Ceiling on Mechanized Sector

To further insure that the hand-made sector continues to expand the central government has frozen the capacity of Wimco, the only large-scale mechanized match producer, at 695,000 cases9 per annum.

9 1 case = 7,200 match boxes.

4.3.5 Impact of Government Policies

As a result of the policy measures described above the Indian match industry boomed. Between 1926-28 and 1949 the number of factories increased from 27 to 192. Since that time there has been a continuous expansion of the hand-made sector whose share of the market has shot up from 22% in 1949-50 to 50% in 1969-70 and now constitutes 82%. With Wimco’s production level frozen and growing population fueling an increase in demand estimated at 6% per annum, the handmade sector will clearly increase even further in the future. The cottage sector under the coordination of the Khadi Village & Industries Commission (KVIC) has been selected to be the major growth sector in the future.

The government is aware that the policy of differential excise levies acts as a positive disincentive for small units to expand their production and even encourages some bigger units to go in for deliberate fragmentation. No satisfactory solution which would strike a balance between the legitimate interests of the small sector and prevention of abuse of official policy has been developed. There are a number of match producers who have fragmented their units to get the benefit of concessions, but at the same time there is a growing trend towards centralized ownership of many smaller units. In the two major southern match centers, Shivakasi and Kovilpatti, 18 families, known as the “Match Kings of India”, now control almost 67% of the total match production in the country.

Another result of government policies has been to severely limit the activities of Wimco in the mechanized sector. The increase in excise duties initially proposed in 1979 represented seven times the company’s profits in 1977.

4.4 Processing and Ancillary Industries

Safety matches manufactured in the country are of the standard type with wooden veneer or cardboard boxes and wooden splints, each box containing 50 splints. Other types of matches produced include book matches containing 10 to 20 sticks and fancy/ advertisement matches made to the buyer’s specifications. Most of the raw materials are the same regardless of the level of production, but the process is slightly different in the mechanized and hand-made sectors.

4.4.1 Raw Materials

The major raw materials used in the production of safety matches are soft woods used to make the match sticks (also known as “splints”) and boxes, and chemicals for the match heads and the friction surface of the boxes. With the exception of sulphur, all the basic raw materials are produced within India. A full appreciation of the employment potential of the match industry should also consider the workers involved in the production of all of these raw materials.

Both the quantity and quality of matchwood are determinants for quality products. Historically the Indian match industry depended on imported wood including aspen (Populus tremula) from Sweden, Canada, America, and Russia; cotton wood (Populus deltoides) from Canada; balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) from Manchuria; and linden (Tilia japonica) from Japan. But the government quickly moved to encourage the use of indigenous woods by restricting the import of foreign poplars. One result of the early use of poplar wood has been that the consumer continues to associate good quality matches with light colored wood, placing further limitations on the selection of indigenous species.

Ailanthus malabarica, DC

A large number of Indian tree species have been found suitable for use in the match industry. Among the most important Indian matchwoods are semul (Bombax ceiba, also known as Indian cottonwood) which is good for boxes as well as splints, Indian aspen (Evodia roxburghiana) and white mutty (Ailanthus malabarica), both suitable for high quality splints. It is easier to find good match wood then box wood. While 29 species have been identified as suitable for match wood, only a few are acceptable for making high quality boxes. Of these only semul is commercially available on a sufficiently large scale. But supplies of semul are being steadily depleted in spite of government efforts to raise plantations. Semul requires a forty to fifty year rotation to grow large enough to produce quality veneer which further exacerbates the supply problem. In response, a number of substitute woods of poorer quality are being used, particularly by the cottage sector. For instance, the wood of the rubber tree (Hevea brazilensis) from plantations in Kerala is now being used for boxes.

Wood supplies have drastically declined in the last 25 years, and the demand for matches continues to grow. For one case (7,200 matches with 50 splints per box) of wooden matches approximately 0.25 CMH (cubic meter hoppus)10 (0.2 m3) of wood is required, of which 0.11 CMH (0.09 m3) is for the boxes and 0.14 CMH (0.11 m3) is used to make the splints.

10 1.27 CMH or cubic metre hoppus = 1 m3.

Recently prices of some other materials such as match wax, potassium chlorate, potassium bichromate and blue match paper have risen dramatically. The steep rise in the price of potassium chlorate since 1979 from Rs 400 to Rs 1,200 per 50 kg illustrates this trend.

4.4.2 The Production Process

In mechanized match manufacture the entire process of match making takes place under one roof from log to match. In the hand made sector veneer for match boxes and splints are produced separately. The remaining stages are all done manually, often as piecework at home and then assembled or boxed at small factory units. The technology of match making is relatively simple and involves a number of stages, whether they are mechanized or not:

i. Processing timber logs into outer and inner box veneers and splints is the first stage. This process requires power operated machines but these can be simple, locally made, slow speed log peelers or the high speed Swedish made peeling lathes, splint choppers, and splint dryers used by Wimco. In the mechanized sector the cut splints and box veneer are fed directly into box making machines and match dipping machines. In the small-scale and cottage sectors the cut splints and box size veneer are transported from producers in Kerala, across the border to factories in Tamil Nadu.

ii. Box making comes next and is done both by machine as well as manually. In the hand-made sector outer veneers are issued to workers either at the factory or at their homes along with blue match paper cut to size. Tapioca flour-paste is used to assemble the outer boxes by hand. Although rates are currently under revision an average worker can make 40 to 50 gross boxes per day, at little more than @ 0.10 paise11 per gross. Inner boxes are prepared the same way, usually by women, at home, with 35 gross a day at 0.15 paise per gross being an average worker’s production.

11 1 Rupee = 100 paise.

iii. Dipping and filling in the handmade sector begins with the distribution of the cut and cleaned splints to workers along with wooden frames consisting of 50 laths, each with 50 grooves. These frames must be filled by hand, each splint fitted into a separate little groove and is the most labour-intensive of handmade match operations. The filled frames are first dipped in wax and then into the “head chemical composition” which includes Potassium chlorate. The dipped matches are now dried atmospherically in racks. This is where the dry climate of Tamil Nadu’s ‘match’ districts is so essential. Once dry the splints are filled in boxes at the rate of 50 per box and put into side-painting frames and levelled. Thereafter, a mixture of red amorphous phosphorous, glue and bichromate of potash is manually painted with a brush on one side. This side painting is usually done by monthly paid adult workers, mostly men.

iv. Labelling and packing come next, once the side painting dries. Workers take the painted boxes from the frames and affix labels and excise stamps to them. The labelled boxes are then packed into dozen packets and 12 dozen packets are packed into a one gross box. Five gross boxes are made into a bundle containing 60 dozen match boxes, and finally shipped to market. Monthly paid workers earn an average of Rs. 300 per month while piece work labourers can earn from Rs 4-8 per day depending on their level of production. Rates were under revision at the time of the research.

Handmade match production technology has a definite edge over mechanized manufacture in being able to accept more kinds of tree species for splints as well as boxes. Also, being made by hand, losses are negligible in this sector compared to those in highly automated mechanized units. The handmade sector, with its low wages, is far more flexible in accepting a wider variety of low girth logs. The low speed peeling machines which are fairly labour-intensive permit a greater freedom in the intake of non-standard wood species for boxes as well as splints. Handmade box making and filling operations are slow, and although wages of workers are low, these conditions enable the handmade sector greater freedom to absorb non-standard wood species in match manufacture. The handmade sector, further, is supported by an ancillary veneer and splint industry where the selection of logs is primarily guided by the consideration of the end product. The quality of the matches produced out of these splints is good and can be consistently maintained. However, the rapidly declining availability and quality of wood has now also affected the handmade sector which has been called upon to take over the leading role in the industry.

Rigorous standards of quality and safety have been adopted by the Indian Standards Institution (ISI). Splints used must be of good quality so that they do not break while striking. Match heads should ignite without spurting and match head particles should not fly when the head is struck against the friction surface of the box. Matches should not catch fire under impact. Because of the rigid nature of the standards, neither Wimco nor most of the “match kings” carry the ISI markings on their matches.

4.4.3 The Splints and Veneer Industry

There are over 400 units, all in the small-scale sector, making veneers and splints in southern India. 75% of these are in Kerala. This ancillary small-scale industry employs over 15,000 persons directly and indirectly. The estimated value of goods produced is around Rs 150 million. In fact the survival and future growth of the handmade sector of the match industry in India depends upon the success and continued efficiency of the veneer and splint producers. There is, however, little realization in the central government on the need to give technical and fiscal policy support to this ancillary industry.

The production of box veneer and splints is relatively simple and very labour-intensive. All of the machinery used in the process is produced locally within Kerala. A typical unit produces both splints as well as box veneers and runs from September to April/May, for about 200 days during the dry months. Veneer and splint enterprises are recognized as small-scale industries by the government, and once they are registered, are entitled to receive a special share of match wood annually from government forests.

Log peelers and saws used in small-scale veneer and splint making are small, work at slow speeds and accept logs as small as 8 cm circumference. After peeling, the splints and veneers are dried for 8 to 10 hours in the open on cement platforms. The drying, packing and storage of the products is done manually. Work is normally suspended during the monsoon (May to September), although a few units have improvised semi-automatic drying chambers for splints, which can be fired during the monsoon with wood waste. Although Ailanthus malabarica is the best quality wood, at least 14 other species including rubber are widely used, resulting in a range in the quality veneers and splints produced.

4.5 The Industry Today

Per capita consumption of matches in India increased steadily from 2.45 sticks per capita in 1970 to 4.25 in 1985. There are wide fluctuations in the annual growth rate in the consumption of matches varying from as low as 3% (before 1970) to as high as 28% (from 1977 to 1983). The rising levels of income in relation to which prices of matches have shown remarkable stability over the years, growing urbanization, swelling numbers of smokers, and changes in fuel consumption patterns indicate that the future rate of growth could be higher than the 6% as supported by past trends.

Consumption of matches in 1977 was 1,965,138 cases (one case = 7,200 boxes). If this is taken as the base and demand is projected at 6% per annum, the estimated requirement for matches in 1990 will be 4,191,663 cases.

It will be up to the three major layers of the match industry: the mechanized sector, the small-scale, hand-made, middle level sector, and the cottage sector meet these demands. Each sector has special characteristics and constraints.

4.5.1 The Mechanized Sector

The mechanized sector is solely represented by M/S Wimco Ltd. with five automated factories and a national network of sales depots catering to over 1.5 million retail outlets. Wimco is a collaborative unit of the multinational Swedish Match Company. Swedish shares in the capital are 40% while the rest of the shares are owned by over 39,000 Indian shareholders, including financial institutions promoted by the Central Government.

Wimco maintains price stability by stamping maximum retail prices on its matches and assures quality through standardization. In addition to match production, Wimco has pioneered the manufacture of chlorates, paper, pulp, glue, and now, the raising of fast growing poplars, required for the manufacture of quality matches, thereby eliminating much of their dependence on imported raw materials. Poplar farming is now supported by nationalized banks and is expected to benefit about 10,000 farmers during the next 10 years and thereafter 3,000 farmers every year.

Government policy has, over the last three decades, placed a ceiling on Wimco’s capacity at 695,000 cases. Due to a number of reasons, particularly the shortage of high quality lumber needed by their equipment Wimco has rarely been able to produce 80% of this ceiling. Their market share has gradually fallen to 18% in 1984 although they pay 60% more in excise taxes than the middle level handmade sector. Wimco has no plans to phase out of the match business however and has accepted the ceiling set by the government as its market share without sacrificing price and quality.

Although highly automated, Wimco operations continue to be fairly labour-intensive and it is argued that they are far more wage-intensive than either of the handmade sectors. Workers’ earnings in the mechanized sector at Wimco average about Rs 35 per day. A 1980 survey showed that wages constituted 16.5% of the gross sales in this sector. In the handmade sector by contrast they were only 5.5%.

Wimco continues to lobby for lower excise dudes and liberalized soft wood import quotas as it feels it is being unfairly taxed considering the limits to its growth which have already been established.

4.5.2 The “Match Kings” of the Handmade Sector

The handmade match industry as a whole registered an increase in market share from 50% in 1968 to 82% in 1984. Within this sector a ‘middle level’ of small-scale match production units has emerged as the dominant production center in the country. Located in Tamil Nadu state this middle level is the product of the first factories begun here by the Nadar family. This sector accounts for 67% of the match market and it continues to be dominated by 18 closely related families, often referred to as the “Match Kings of South India”. These families each own more than one factory and control a number of cottage level units through sub-contracting. They have a virtual monopoly over more than two-thirds of the match industry. Table 4.1 lists the “match kings” and their respective production figures as of 1980.

The ascendancy of the “Match Kings” was clearly not the intended outcome of the central government’s 1979 policy introducing massive relief in excise duties to the cottage and small-scale sector. The benefits were intended to go to smaller-scale, village-level entrepreneurs and cooperatives registered with the KVIC. Although this continues to be the policy goal, it is now obvious that the major benefits and opportunities for future growth of the match industry, much to the dismay of government policy makers, will go to these 18 families.

Irrespective of the beneficiaries, this middle sector is a force to reckon with in the industry. It has helped the growth of ancillary industries for the manufacture of splints and veneers, potassium chlorate, and factories producing glue, and paper. This sector also produces non-glowing deluxe matches, book or strip matches and wax matches. It has taken the lead in adopting Indian Standards Specifications for matches, and is just beginning to develop overseas markets.

TABLE 4.2: Groups Producing More Than 10,000 Cases (5 Lakh Gross) of Match Boxes per Year (1980)

(1 case = 50 gross or 7,200 boxes)

S. No.


Name of Group

Production in 1980

Number of Factories





Pioneer Group





Arasan Group





Aiya Nadar Group





Sundaravel Group





Hind/Standard Group





Pope The King/East India Group





New Jyothi Group





St. Joseph Group





Neenakshi Group





Comorin Group





National Group





Modem Group





Jupiter Group





Premier Group





Anja Group





Kadiriya Group





Coronation Group





Everest Group








The handmade, middle sector is presently confident that the entire requirement of safety matches for the nation can be met by them in the near future. They lobby vigorously for the total exclusion of Wimco from match production and complain about lower excises levied on cottage level units. The sector asserts that its technology of using manual labour is as good as Wimco’s, if not better. However, this assertion raises a number of questions. Since the development of a major fireworks industry in the Shivakashi region, labour is presently not as easily available as it once was. Moreover, thirty percent of these middle level factories now use cardboard boxes, so these are actually semi-mechanized relying on power driven machinery to form these boxes. Finally, operating in an extremely poor region, the “Match Kings” are frequently accused of exploiting women and child labourers, paying extremely low wages under poor working conditions.

The middle-level hand-made sector has helped the growth of ancillary industries for the manufacture of splints and veneers, Potassium Chlorate, and factories producing glue, and paper. The small-scale sector also produces non-glowing deluxe matches, book or strip matches and wax matches. It has taken the lead in adopting Indian Standards Specifications for matches, and is just beginning to develop overseas markets.

4.5.3 The Cottage Sector

The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), a corporation owned by the government, entered the picture in 1977 to create opportunities for new entrepreneurs to set up small-scale match units in rural areas of India. The intent of this effort was to increase employment; reduce exploitation by traders; stabilize the market price at a reasonable profit level; and raise the wage levels of workers in both cottage and small-scale sectors of the non-mechanized units. Small-scale units have several distinct advantages. They may be household-based, are often more efficient in their use of a wide variety of materials, produce less wastage, and distribute benefits to a deeper labour pool.

Officially, cottage industries are those using manual production methods that produce less than 75,000 cases of matches per year. There are estimated to be over 10,000 cottage match units, either under the KVIC or associated with it on a cooperative basis around the country. Sixty percent of these are in South India. The KVIC cottage match industry program emphasizes technical, financial and marketing assistance. It endeavors to offer a total assistance package from the opening of the unit to the marketing of the completed matches.

Several major setbacks occurred in the “Rapid Expansion Programme” that the KVIC initiated. As a result low quality matches worth several million Rupees were a total loss. Production levels fell dramatically and there were hundreds of cottage handmade units closed, lying idle, or running below capacity. The KVIC scheme came under a great deal of public criticism. Another development in the cottage sector that met with failure was a planned collaboration between the Maharashtra Khadi & Village Industries Board (MKVIB) and Wimco to set up 50 cottage scale units in the state. Although planned in 1979 this project has still not been cleared by government channels.

Despite these failures, the government has made a commitment to the cottage sector with the state objective that future expansion of the industry should be in the handmade sector, especially at the cottage level. Still recovering from its earlier setback, KVIC is presently engaged in reorganizing and restructuring its cottage match activity before embarking upon any more substantial programmes. Some of the important components of the new program include:

- research, development and training programs, with technical extension centers to be established in six locations nationwide coordinating training programs;

- creating an infrastructure for distribution of raw material and for marketing finished matches;

- product diversification to include “fancy” matches;

- development of appropriate technologies for family box making and frame filling.

4.6 Issues and Constraints

The Indian match industry is a vigorous FBSSE which has succeeded in expanding at a relatively small-scale, hand-made, and labour-intensive level. There are, however, a number of important issues and major constraints that confront the industry. These include:

- shortages of raw materials, particularly match quality soft woods, but also chemicals, match wax and wax paper;

- geographical distribution of the industry in one region and resulting labour shortages;

- the monopoly of the 18 “Match Kings”;

- exploitation of women and child labour by these monopolists;

- the failure of the cottage sector;

- the introduction of new technology in the hand made sector;

- and the unique problems of the veneer and splint making industry.

4.6.1 Shortage of Matchwood

The increasing demand for matches coupled with declining wood resources is the major bottle-neck faced by the entire match industry in India, including the ancillary splint and veneer industry in Kerala. In order to meet the demand for matches of 3.51 million cases in 1990, projected by the Development Committee on Matchwood in 1979, the total matchwood required would be 879,000 CMH (692,000 m3). At that time the estimate of total matchwood available was 500,000 CMH (394,000 m3). Although estimates of availability are unreliable it is doubtful whether substantial increases have been made. In fact the government has projected a shortfall of 900,000 m3 in the year 2000. Veneer quality wood for match boxes, which accounts for 44% of matchwood used, is in particularly short supply. Through policy decisions the government has also raised the royalty on wood many times over. There has been a virtual scramble to take whatever wood and ready splints are available between the mechanized and the handmade sectors.

There are a number of reasons explaining the critical shortage of suitable matchwood in India. These include:

i. Over-harvesting of matchwood during the last two decades all over the country;

ii. The submersion of forest areas bearing matchwood under hydro-electric reservoirs, and clear felling for irrigation canals;

iii. Conversion of large chunks of forest land bearing matchwood for resettlement and state farms, army cantonments and other development activities;

iv. Failure of natural regeneration of the main matchwood species, semul.

v. Lack of adequate tending of existing matchwood plantations;

vi. Competing claims for matchwood from other soft wood-based industries like tea chest plywood, packaging, pencils and shoe heel.

Geographical factors have played an important part in wood shortages for the match industry. Almost 82% of the entire production of matches in the handmade sector is located in Tamil Nadu in areas with minimal forest resources. Wood has had to be transported from out of state. Fortunately there is a thriving veneer and splint industry in neighboring Kerala, where over 400 processing units supply nearly 90% of the wood used in Tamil Nadu. However, Kerala is also experiencing growing timber shortages. Wood shortages in the location of the Wimco at Bareilly and Bombay have resulted in transportation of ready-made splints from the Andaman Islands, over 2,000 kilometers away, involving sea, rail and road travel and incurring heavy losses and delays. Other basic raw materials are chemicals and other materials for match head composition which are also becoming scarce and high priced all over India.

4.6.2 Shortages and High Prices of Chemicals

Despite production of 12,000 tons of potassium chlorate a year within the country there is still a shortage of this chemical compound. The steep rise in prices since 1979 (from Rs 400 to Rs 1,200 per 50 kg) is blamed on the shortage of power which is needed for the production of the chemical. To cope with the problem, the manufacturers lower the quality of the matches by reducing the prescribed quantity of the chemical formula for the match head, thereby affecting the consumer.

All the other chemicals needed by the industry have either become rare or expensive during the past ten years as well, resulting in growing shortages of these materials for the small and non-mechanized match making units.

4.6.3 Geographical Concentration and Labour Shortages

As mentioned above 82% of India’s match production is located in south India in one geographical region. This not only serves as a drain on neighboring wood resources but carries with it additional problems of transportation and distribution. Until recently labour was plentiful in the region, in fact the steady supply of extremely inexpensive labour was one of the major reasons why the industry grew in the area. The labour equation is changing in the traditional areas of Shivakasi, Sattur and Kovilpatti where, in addition to handmade matches, India’s largest fireworks and printing industries are now located. There is now an acute shortage of available manpower in the traditional match making areas. Because of the labour shortage, many units in these areas are unable to utilize their installed capacities fully. In some cases, production levels are as low as 40% of capacity.

4.6.4 The Monopoly of the 18 “Match Kings”

The fact that 18 families currently control 67% of India’s match production, even though their operating units are individually designated as small-scale, is surely at odds with the government’s desire to see the match industry remain as decentralized as possible in order to distribute income and employment to the poorest groups in society.

4.6.5 Exploitation of Women and Child Labourers

Linked to the control of the industry by the 18 “Match Kings” and its location in a very impoverished part of the country are allegations that women and children are being exploited, paid low wages, provided poor working conditions and given few benefits. While the industry has definitely been economically beneficial to the region, and very few cases of labour unrest have been reported, the low-wage structure in the handmade sector enables it to manufacture its product at lower cost, at the expense of child labour, paying child workers only Rs 3 or Rs 4 per 10-hour day (c. Rs 80-110 per month) with no fringe benefits. In the middle level sector a large number of children below the age of 10 are employed, in spite of the national minimum age of 14.

This problem extends to the cottage sector where the bulk of the labour force in KVIC match units is made up of female workers in the 15-20 age group. Here, the prevailing wage rate is Rs 4 to Rs 7 per day (c. Rs 110 - 190 per month) depending on output. In contrast, daily earnings in the mechanized sector at Wimco average Rs 35. This is an extremely important issue. All too often in low value-added FBSSEs women and their family members are relegated to the lowest rung on the income ladder. This is partly a result of the piece-work system, whereby families are paid by the number of boxes made in their homes, and so the entire family is put to work.12

12 The contribution that forest-based enterprises make to rural household income is better assessed in comparison with wages in other sectors. Workers’ earnings obtained in mechanized match production (c. Rs 930 per month assuming a 6-day work week) compare rather well with average earnings reported for Indian workers in the manufacturing sector as a whole in 1982 (Rs. 622.5 monthly). However, at c. Rs 78 - 192 for a six-day work week, average monthly earnings for workers in the non-mechanized, middle-level and cottage industries compare far less favourably. In fact, daily wages in this small-scale sector (Rp 3 -7) are also lower than the minimum wages set for agricultural labourers in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala (Rp. 10 - 15 per day).(*) With monthly per capita consumer expenditures averaging Rp 112 in rural India in 1983(*), wages received in the small-scale match making sector would often not cover subsistence costs. Nevertheless, they may still be a crucial source of supplemental family income brought in by different members of poor rural families.

(*) National Institute of Rural Development, Department of Agriculture, Government of India. Rural Development Statistics 1989. Rajendranagar, Hyderabad, India, 1990.

4.6.6 The Failure of the Cottage Sector

In spite of a full-fledged, government funded program, the KVIC sponsored cottage sector has been unable to realize its potential as a major contributor to the match market. Poor preparation resulted in the distribution of funds before the appropriate infrastructure was in place. This resulted in the sanctioning of grants to many new units, often in non-traditional areas where raw materials were scarce and training unavailable. New factories were often started in unsuitable working spaces, often sheds in home courtyards, with insufficient storage facilities for raw materials and finished products. Inferior species of wood and poor quality chemicals were often utilized and there was no system of quality control. Funds and materials were diverted and misused. This failure raises questions about the need for better planning, for the development of infrastructure and training. But it also raises the issue of size. How small is too small? When is small preferable to large or vice versa?

4.6.7 Changes in Technology

The substitution of wooden match boxes by cardboard, pioneered by Wimco, has introduced a definite technological and material improvement in the industry. But along with this change, a degree of semi-mechanization of operations has also been introduced. Cardboard skillets used mainly for manufacturing outer box match manufacture are printed in central, automated printing machines and are purchased by small match manufacturers. This innovation has naturally resulted in lowering the employment rate, much against the planned concept of promoting employment-oriented technologies.

4.6.8 Additional Constraints of the Ancillary Industries

In addition to raw material shortages the ancillary veneer and splint industry faces a number of constraints including:

- inadequate supply of electric power;
- lack of training facilities for skilled workers;
- lack of research and development facilities to undertake systematic development of rubber wood; and
- lack of marketing and institutional support.

Excellent specimens of white poplar trees

4.7 Recommendations

Possible solutions to the supply problems include:

4.7.1 Substitution of Wooden Matchboxes with Cardboard

As much as 44% of all the wood used in match production goes into the production of matchboxes. By substituting cardboard boxes a major reduction in wood utilization could be effected immediately. Cardboard production itself requires fibrous raw material but there is a far wider choice of species from fast growing trees like eucalyptus to bamboos, grasses and agricultural residues. Wimco has converted 70% of its box production to cardboard in four out of five plants. To be truly effective, however cardboard substitution must be widely adopted by the small-scale sector.

Currently the major problem with substitution by cardboard boxes is the relatively high cost of cardboard, at Rs 400 per case. This cost is partially offset by excise rebates allowed for cardboard. Another hidden cost lies in the likelihood that switching to cardboard box making will involve more mechanization and therefore lead to a reduction in employment levels. The real value of cardboard substitution lies in the potential it holds for saving matchwood. According to projections by Wimco and the KVIC (1979) 500,000 m3 of matchwood could potentially be saved in the year 2000 by substituting cardboard for all wooden boxes.

4.7.2 Substitution of Wooden Matches with Wax Matches

Another approach to the raw material problem is to substitute wax instead of wood for the match splints themselves. A lead in this direction has been taken by Wimco and several small units are also producing wax matches now. The splints are made from a special type of wax paper. The production of wax matches has so far remained restricted due to the high cost of wax paper, about Rs 20,000 per ton at present, and the very high ad valorem excise on wax paper of 31.5%. If wood shortages continue to be as severe as projected, the problem can be partially solved through government rebates in excise levied on wax paper to encourage the production of wax matches. Wax is, however, a petroleum by product and it is unlikely to become readily available in sufficient quantities to replace wood in match splints.

4.7.3 Conservation of Available Wood Resources and Increased Imports

The match industry, which is owned by the private sector is at the mercy of government owned wood supplies. The industry would like to see all suitable soft woods reserved exclusively for match production, It would also benefit from increased access to imported lumber.

4.7.4 Regeneration Through Plantations and Agroforestry

Even if all of the radical measures to solve the matchwood shortages mentioned above are implemented by the government and the industry, the only lasting solution to the matchwood shortage lies in regenerating the trees and maximizing timber production. This can be accomplished by the government and private tree farmers through more intensive management of existing plantations of softwood trees like semul. Widespread adoption of tree farming, particularly of short rotation species suitable for matchwood such as hybrid poplars in northern India and Ailanthus malabarica in South India should also be promoted.

Due in part to the great success of poplar farming in Pakistan, which is now self sufficient in match production, there is increasing activity and considerable potential in private matchwood production through agro-forestry. In northern India, where there has been a tradition of poplar growing, especially in Kashmir, Wimco has pioneered tree farming of poplar woodlots and inter-cropping of poplar with cash crops like turmeric. Poplars will grow above 28° latitude in north India and do particularly well under optimum soil conditions with irrigation when grown in compact plantations. There are several species of poplars indigenous to the Indian Himalayas including Populus euphratica, and many ornamental and hybrid poplars were introduced over the last 50 years.

Through their subsidiary, Wimco Seedlings Ltd. based in Uttar Pradesh, Wimco has developed a fast growing hybrid clone of Populus deltoides which is supplied to farmers as part of a complete extension package, linked to loans from government banks. A guaranteed buy-back price assures the farmer of a market once the poplars have reached merchantable size. Under good conditions a healthy hybrid poplar can produce 0.3 m3 of matchwood over a 10 year rotation. Wimco calculates that by annually planting 1.3 million trees, eventually covering 75,000 ha, a sustained yield of 380,000 m3 could be obtained, enough to compensate for the estimated shortfall of matchwood projected in 1990.

Similar schemes need to be undertaken by the small-scale sector, and the government, particularly in Kerala where the wood and veneer industry is beginning to suffer from wood shortages. “White mutty” species like Ailanthus malabarica and Alstonia scholaris are already being grown in Kerala and are suitable for more intensive tree farming, as they can be harvested in 8-10 year rotations. Improved forestry extension, possibly including the KVIC, needs to make high quality seedlings and information readily available to tree farmers. Some new efforts to incorporate semul into agroforestry systems13 may also provide hope at a cottage industry level.

13 Research is being done on inter-cropping semul with a number of crops by the University of Tamil Nadu Research Station in (C?HECK).

Some state government social forestry programs are already undertaking matchwood production on a limited scale, by including species like poplars and Ailanthus malabarica in their seedling distribution.

4.7.5 Institutional Support to the Ancillary Industry

Given some of the constraints facing the veneer and splint industry it is necessary to ensure that appropriate institutional support is given to help ensure steady electric supply, develop training programs, undertake systematic research on utilization of new species and develop marketing assistance. As KVIC has been identified as the major governmental agency responsible for the future growth of the match industry it should attempt to address these issues.

4.7.6 100% Marketing by KVIC

KVIC presently procures 45% of the production of the handmade match factories under its purview and leaves 55% to the unit to market at its own discretion. It is recommended that KVIC procure 100% of the production to market and leave the unit to concentrate on production only. By doing so, the unit will be able to put a larger quantity to market and the consumer will be benefitted by paying lower prices. In order to do this, the KVIC may need more financing from the Central Government.

4.7.7 Encouragement of Industry’s Spread to Other Regions

If labour shortage is a problem in Tamil Nadu now, there is no reason why the industry cannot be developed in other parts of the country. This way, the benefits of employment generation be shared by different parts of the country. Also, the present concentration of the industry in the South makes the uninterrupted supply of raw materials next to impossible and exacerbates the acute scarcity of timber in the area. By promoting the small-scale match industry in other parts of the country, the use of raw materials and other chemicals in other states becomes possible. KVIC has plans for promoting the regional spread of the match industry. It has embarked on a program for training prospective skilled labour, providing incentives to induce mobility among the trained workers, and enlarging the entrepreneurial base of the industry to encourage the migration of matchwood industry units.

4.7.8 Sectoral Policy Clarification

The government needs to clarify its policies with regard to the three distinct sectors of the industry. Each sector is clearly interested in protecting its own interests, particularly in view of the substantial differentials in excise duty levied against the mechanized and hand-made sectors. There may be some benefit to policies which encourage the simultaneous and complementary development of all three sectors. Such policies have already been introduced in the textiles, computers and electronics industries.

In the case of the match industry, the phenomenal growth of the small-scale sector may be largely due to the differential excise levies which have acted as a disincentives for small units to expand their production and even encouraged some of the bigger units to go for deliberate fragmentation to get the benefit of reduced levies. What makes small better than large? Should small units continually evolve into larger ones over time? Recent rationalization of fiscal incentives to the small-scale sector by putting middle level and cottage units at the same excise level seems to indicate a trend in this direction. While adequate measures must be taken to encourage the efficiency of small units, a degree of protection for the latter may have to be continued for some time to help them overcome any artificial disadvantages from which they may be suffering. The long-term objective must be to evolve an integrated approach to the development of the small-scale and large-scale sectors so as to improve their combined economic performance and ensure the largest possible benefit to the greatest number of people.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page