Dr. Rajan P. Nachane

Retired Principal Scientist and Head, QEID, CIRCOT, Mumbai 19.

In India, banana is cultivated on about eight lakh hectare area and the leading states are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka  and Kerala. In addition to fruit production, huge quantity of biomass (pseudostem, leaves, suckers etc.) is generated. Presently, this biomass is discarded as waste. In past, some researchers have successfully demonstrated use of banana pseudostem and leaves for extraction of fibres on a small scale. Mostly the extraction is done by hand scrutching with the help of a blunt knife edge.

In India, the fibres are being used for preparing handicrafts, ropes etc. Under a project entitled “A Value Chain on Utilization of Banana Pseudostem for Fibre and Other Value Added Products” funded by the World Bank through National Agricultural Innovation Project managed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, many uses of banana pseudostem have been shown. The project was carried out in consortium mode with Navsari Agricultural University as lead centre and Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology (CIRCOT), Mumbai, Man Made Textile Research Association (MANTRA), Surat, J.K. Paper Ltd., Songadh, Dist Tapi, Gujarat, as partners.

Some statistics:

  • Pseudostem availability – 80 tonnes/ ha
  • Area under banana cultivation – 8 lakh ha
  • Total pseudostem availability in the country – 64 million tonnes
  • Fibre availability – 6.4 lakh tonnes (0.64 million tonnes)
  • Sap availability – 14 million tonnes, i.e., 14 billion litres
  • Scutcher waste – 21 million tonnes
  • Central core – 7 million tonnes

The major problem in non utilization of banana pseudostem fibres (to be mentioned as banana fibres) has been very low productivity in hand extraction. CIRCOT had earlier shown that with the use of modified raspodar machine, good quality fibre can be extracted on large scale which can become economically viable. In the present project, this has been substantiated with actual work in farmers’ fields. The scutching waste and sap obtained as by-product during fibre extraction can be used for preparing enriched vermi-compost and as liquid fertilizer, respectively. Apart from this, the high value products viz., mordant from sap, microcrystalline cellulose powder from fibres and edible products from central core can also be obtained.

If fact, banana cultivators are finding it difficult to dispose of the pseudostems after fruit harvest, in non-disturbing manner. Instead, if fibres are extracted from pseudostems and other byproducts viz. scutcher waste, sap and central core are utilized for production of different value added products, there is good potential for wealth and employment generation. For this, what is required is to

  • Create awareness amongst banana growing farmers about utilization of banana pseudostem.
  • Encourage entrepreneurs – may be amongst farmers or farmer groups/ cooperatives – for utilization of banana pseudostem.
  • Establish cluster of units (each of five raspadors) for extraction of fibres, sap and scutcher waste from farmers’ fields.
  • Popularization of non-woven fabric production from banana fibres through cluster approach – i.e., encourage utilization of fibre by establishing non-woven fabric production unit in a cluster of about 40 to 50 units. Non-woven fabric can be used in various applications such as – making composite tiles using suitable resins, filler material in mattresses, sound absorbing panel in auditoriums, heat barrier in extreme climates, geo-textiles, etc.
  • Encourage use of peddle operated CIRCOT-Phoenix Charkha to spin quality yarn by artisans in rural area.
  • Encourage establishment of enriched sap production units.
  • Encourage farmers to utilize scutcher waste for production of vermi-compost for their own use or form farmers’ self help groups to produce vermi-compost on commercial scale.
  • Encourage use of fibres – may be partially to make it economically viable – in making quality papers.
  • Encourage use of central core for preparation of food items such as candy, vegetable, starch, central core juice as ayurvedic medicine in treatment of kidney stones, etc.

For extraction alone, one unit of five raspadors employees at least 30 persons. The unit can produce about 30 tonnes of fibres per annum. For utilization of the entire pseudostem available, 20000 such units will be required, that too, in rural areas where banana cultivation takes place. Thus, employment generation will be approximately six lakh persons or in man days it will be 180 million man days (6*10^5*300 with the assumption that units will be working for 300 days in a year). In the conversion of fibres to fabric and end products, sap to enriched sap, scutcher waste to vermin-compost, central core to edible products, etc., there will be additional employment generation.

According to Shri Uday Kotak, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, our country urgently needs to shift focus from finance to commerce, i.e., to create more jobs. Here is an opportunity to create jobs, that too, in rural areas with utilization of agro-waste for value addition and wealth creation.