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1. Introduction

1.1 Background to the project

The techno-economic manual represents the final document of the project, which started officially on 1 June 1995 and was completed 31 December 1999. A need to improve the economic viability of coir fibres on world markets led to a proposal for making improvements to the obsolete processing technologies in use. This resulted in a programme of research and development (R&D) activities on wet processing technologies, the outcome of which is described herein. The Executive Board of the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) approved the proposal entitled “IMPROVEMENT IN DRYING, SOFTENING, BLEACHING, DYEING COIR FIBRE/YARN AND IN PRINTING COIR FLOOR COVERINGS” in March 1993. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was designated the Project Executing Agency (PEA). The assigned project implementation agencies in the partnership countries were the Coir Board of India, Cochin, India and the Coconut Development Authority, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

1.2 Objectives and activities

The focus of the project was on coir wet processing technologies, and was directed towards the research and transfer of technologies that would encourage further demand for traditional coir products, for example, coir fibre, yarn and floor coverings (mats, matting and carpets) by improving quality and enhancing appeal. The project required that these technologies should be appropriate and cost effective, and would upgrade the production of coir and yarn manufacture at village level.

A strategy was proposed containing five activities for a period of two years to improve drying, dyeing, softening, and bleaching technologies, as well as the printability of coir mats, rugs and carpets. Drying was implemented in Sri Lanka by the Coconut Development Authority (CDA), while the other activities were located in India, and implemented by the Coir Board of India (CBI) with the close involvement of the Central Coir Research Institute (CCRI), Kalavoor.

1.3 Execution

The CCRI is a specialized institution for the R & D of coir, and a constituent part of the Coir Board of India. The CBI through the Ministry of Commerce provides government representation for the coir industry. The CCRI needs to be exposed to international standards of testing and up-to-date technology in order to be able to supply coir exporters with the improved technologies and product certificates that are essential to enable them to remain competitive. CCRI research staff are involved in many different aspects of research, development and testing for the coir production sector. Improvements with the technologies of fibre extraction, spinning and weaving, dyeing and finishing were extensively covered during the R&D programme that formed part of the project. Much attention was also given to the bio-technological processing of coir fibre extraction, bleaching and softening.

Much has been achieved in India within the framework of the FAO/CFC project on wet processing of coir. The project has given a measure of focus to the CCRI research groups on the processing technologies required, and enabled them to target and re-align their work programmes. This will have long term post-project implications. Methods have been developed to assess the research achievements made, both technically and economically. Thanks to the current project, the Institute has been able to purchase essential research equipment such as the HPLC, GC and a UV/VIS spectrophotometer. This equipment can be used to measure the concentration and composition of a broad range of chemicals, such as dyestuffs and auxiliary chemicals in processing liquors or effluents.

In Sri Lanka, project activities on drying technology were undertaken by the CDA, which is essentially a trading and advisory organization and not a research centre. The CDA has some limited laboratory facilities on site with which to investigate foods from coconuts but none for non-food products such as coir. It recruited specialists, allocated laboratory space and made a concerted effort to redress some of these deficiencies. The CDA made full use of external contractors for the construction of rigs and prototypes. By the end of the project a prototype drier was working within designated parameters of design, but lack of industrial R&D facilities and limited international orientation on the part of the CDA was an obstacle to achieving the goal of developing a fully functional and operating drying unit for coir fibre products.

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