Joining hands with Sri Lanka’s coir industry, the USAID-funded Competitiveness Program managed by Nathan Associates distributed 500 coir spinning reels to village women.
—When the tsunami washed away thousands of homes along Sri Lanka’s southern coast last December, hundreds of village women lost their spinning reels in the disaster. Spinning reels are simple hand-turned machines used to spin coir fiber into yarn and yarn into rope, which is then sold to a weaver. Operated by three women usually from the same household, the reels allow each woman to earn 100 rupees for four or five hours of work while staying in their homes to attend to daily chores.
Immediately after the tsunami, the coir industry started a program to restore the spinning reels of the women marginally affected by the disaster so that they could keep up with the demand for coir-based geotextile exports to Korea and Japan.
Having worked with the coir industry since 2001 and helped to establish the Coir Council International, Nathan met with industry representatives to take the program a step further. Nathan secured USAID approval to pay for the replacement of 500 spinning reels to distribute to women who had lost everything in the tsunami. The coir industry agreed to provide the women with 25 kg of coir fiber.
The replacement reels were constructed in the Ambalangoda area using local metalworkers and materials. The new spinning reels were initially distributed just south of Ambalangoda in the villages of Maharupa and Thelwatte, the areas hardest hit by the tsunami. They have now been distributed along the southern coast as far as the town of Matara, where coir fiber is exported for the floor mat industry.
Sri Lanka is the single largest supplier of coir fiber to the world market. Together with India the country accounts for almost 90 percent of global coir exports. Coir, reclaimed from the husk of a coconut, is spun into rope and used in a variety of products such as floor mats, brushes, brooms, and geotextiles to control erosion along hillsides destabilized by fire or construction.
Thanks to the Competitiveness Program the 500 spinning reels helped restore the livelihood of 1,500 women and ensured a steady supply of coir rope for weavers to export geotextiles to Korea and Japan. The new reels also restored the livelihood of weavers and reel makers and helped re-connect an important link in the value chain of one of Sri Lanka’s key exports.