MADURAI: Ridicule was the only income that PM Murugesan received when he decided to tread a different path and came up with an idea to make ropes from banana fibre. However, 12 years later, the 52-year-old farmer from the district was mentioned in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Mann Ki Baat programme for his agro-based innovation.
The farmer from Melakkal village in Vadipatti taluk has developed four types of machinery to make rope out of plantain waste, three of which are patented. On Sunday, the Prime Minister lauded the agro-based entrepreneur and said, "Murugesan's innovation would not just solve the waste disposal problem but also open up new avenues of income for farmers."
Expressing happiness on having won praises from the Prime Minister, the thrilled Murugesan said that Modi's wishes have inspired and motivated him to strive hard and train many farmers across the country by providing them with a means of livelihood.
Down memory lane
Sharing his journey with TNIE, Murugesan said, "Hailing from an agricultural family, I dropped out of school after class VIII and was introduced to farming by my father. We have been cultivating paddy and banana on our two-and-a-half acre land. In 2009, I thought of recycling banana fibre and turning it into a value-added product by making ropes out of it. I was ridiculed for the idea. However, I did not care and went ahead with my plan."
In six months, Murugesan single-handedly developed the 'handle rope making machine' (presently priced at Rs 25,000) in 2010. The machine, which got the patent in 2012, was built from taking inspiration from the coir rope-making machine. Using his banana rope making machine, he was able to produce nearly 3,000 metres of banana fibre rope at one go.
"Since banana fibre ropes cannot be sold as a product itself, I decided to make various household handicraft products like bags, baskets, mats, bottles, boxes, lampshades, floor mats. A business that began as a small unit, in our cattle-shed with just six workers in 2011, has now grown into five units in Melakkal, Keelamathur, Keelamattaiyan, Kodimangalam and Panniyan villages, with 80 workers on board. Besides, 200 more women from the neighbouring villages make the banana fibre handicraft products from their homes and send them to us," he explained.
To provide a permanent livelihood to women, Murugesan and his wife M Malarkodi (47) made it a point to run their businesses with an all-women team. "Usually, women workers are quick to grasp weaving skills and the products come out with a perfect finish," he stated.
Finding the right market
When asked about how he found a market for his unconventional product, Murugesan who is a member of the Directorate of Agribusiness Development (Tamil Nadu Agriculture University), Coimbatore, said that he initially sold in small numbers at trade fairs and agri-expos until he went global in 2011.
"With the help of a private export firm, I first shipped 500 pieces of my products abroad. My first overseas shipment received a rousing reception owing to their bio-degradable nature. When the client asked me to quote a price for the delivered products, as a farmer, I was overwhelmed as farmers usually have no say in fixing the price for their produce," recounted Murugesan.
Over the years, he indigenously developed three more banana fibre rope making machines namely -- power rope making machine (priced at Rs 60,000), power winding rope making machine (priced at Rs 75,000) and semi-automatic rope making machine (priced at Rs 1,50,000).
Training womenfolk in villages
Murugesan has so far trained about 1,500 people in several states, including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Bihar and Gujarat in handling the machinery and weaving the handicraft items. Murugesan is to soon impart his skills to womenfolk in the African continent.