For such a small plant, the coconut sure has a lot of uses.
The innocuous little coconut has been called the “tree of life” because nearly all parts of the plant are useful. The inside shell, for example, has coarse fibrous materials called “coir” which make up 1/3 of the coconut pulp.
These fibers are strong and yet pliable. They are elastic enough to twist mechanically or by hand without breaking. It is waterproof and one of the few natural fibers able to resist the damaging effects of salt water. And because it is biodegradable, it is also ecologically friendly.
Coconut shells and husks thrown away by buko vendors once clogged the rivers Las Piñas and Zapote Rivers. Now, nets made of coco coir are used to rip rap the length of the riverbanks.
This effective natural solution to prevent flooding is 80% cheaper than conventional riprap methods like cement and stone and is also useful in preventing soil erosion.
Woven like beehive comb, the net allows plants to grow inside the cell like openings to further hold back the soil with their long roots. Compared to plastic nets, the coco coir net is more durable, almost impervious to the damaging effects of sun and water. Plus, it is biodegradable as the material slowly decomposes over time into small bits fertilizes the soil.
Other uses for coir fiber include potting medium for horticulture uses, hydroponics, and erosion control.
These varied uses have increased the demand for the coconet and have in turn, created a source of livelihood to a number of Las Piñas residents who weave the coco coir into nets.
The Las Piñas local government has distributed twining and weaving equipment and providing electrical support for its residents who have made coconet weaving their own small family business.
Just show strong is coconut coir?
Just ask Marco Polo. While visiting the port of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf he discovered that the Arabian seafarers built their ships without nails just by sewing them together with coconut fiber.
Coir fibers that can be derived from the husks of coconuts were considered the best material for watertight sealing of ship joints and for riggings.
Interesting facts about coconut coir:
In the 1960s, there were at least 60 coir extraction plants operating in the Philippines. Ropes, beds, brushes and mats were just some of the things that were made from coconut coir. Coir was used for upholstering the car seats of Mercedes Benz, BMW and other German cars.
Later, the proliferation of other cheaper substitutes like foam and plastics forced the decorticating plants to close down in the late `70s.
Did you know?
In 2005, Dr. Justino Arboleda of the Bicol University College won the first prize in the First World Challenge sponsored by the BBC for his soil erosion control net or coconet.
Coconet, made from waste coconut husk was judged the best environmental grass-roots project in the world besting 456 entries from 90 countries.
(Adapted from “My Journey in the Las Piñas Arts & Crafts Industry”)