KASARGOD: Next month, when Cheemeni Open Jail begins its craft course, the inmates will literally sit up and take notice. Should things go as planned, Didhul Eldo, all of 11 years, will be their instructor! What will pique their interest will neither be his age nor his diminutive size.“I’ll be teaching them how to make furniture from banana fibre,” says the boy, a Class VI student of WMO English Academy at Muttil, Wayanad. He will accompany his father, Eldo P V - a natural fibre researcher from Meenangadi in Wayanad — to conduct the 24-day course for the inmates of the open jail.
“I have the technology to extract fibre from the plantain stem and turn it into paper roll. Didhul has a bend for design, and he will teach them how to make furniture using the paper roll,” says Eldo. Fibre from plantain stems are used to make yarn, handmade paper and paper cups, handbags and hats.“But our research has found paper rolls made from the banana fibre are as sturdy as wood and can be used for making furniture,” he says.
Last year, Didhul made tiles using areca wood and the innovation was presented as a paper at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) at Pusa in Delhi. Now, he has made coffee tables, chairs and dining tables from the paper roll from banana fibre. “The paper roll is an alternative to wood. We can make anything of any size,” he says. But the best part is the cost.“For Rs 1,300, you will get a coffee table and two chairs. These will be runaway successes,” says Eldo, who heads National Biotech Research Development Organisation in Meenangadi. “The furniture will weigh just around two to three kg. It will have a minimum life of 10 years.”
Cheemeni Open Jail superintendent says the Prisons Department is likely to clear the proposal on September 15, with around Rs 50,000 being set aside for the project. “It is part of several proposals planned for the welfare of the prisoners,” he says. Officers say the prison does organic farming, has a dairy unit, makes and sells chapathi and biryani. For Eldo, raw material needed for making the furniture is available inside the prison itself.“Farmers discard the plantain stems after harvesting the banana. We can make a coffee table from five plantains,” he says.
Fibre worth crores wasted
Having trained around 60,000 people across the country to make handicraft using banana fibre over the past 15 years, Eldo (39) knows what he is about. He says plantain is cultivated on 32,000 hectares of wetland and 6,500 ha of dryland in Wayanad alone. Farmers harvest only the banana and discard the plantain stem.“That means 177 lakh kg of fibre is lost every day for 10 months. The fibre is worth Rs 150 crore. This, I have calculated only for Wayanad. You may calculate how much money we are wasting in the country by discarding the plantain.”
Apart from fibre, around 2 kg of fertiliser can be made from one plantain stump, he says. A faculty member in 49 government departments, eight universities and 18 research institutes, Eldo had received the state government’s rural innovator award last year.“We will be teaching the inmates of Cheemeni Open Jail all these technologies in 24 days and help set up a plant too,” he says.