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Natural fibres

Coir

A coarse, short fibre extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, coir is found in ropes, mattresses, brushes, geotextiles and automobile seats

The plant

FAO

Coir is extracted from the tissues surrounding the seed of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), which is grown on 10 million ha of land throughout the tropics. There are two types of coir: brown fibre, which is obtained from mature coconuts, and finer white fibre, which is extracted from immature green coconuts after soaking for up to 10 months.

The fibre

Coir fibres measure up to 35 cm in length with a diameter of 12-25 microns. Among vegetable fibres, coir has one of the highest concentrations of lignin, making it stronger but less flexible than cotton and unsuitable for dyeing. The tensile strength of coir is low compared to abaca, but it has good resistance to microbial action and salt water damage.

CNR-ISMAC, Biella, Italy

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Producers

Coir Board, India

The coir industry is fully developed only in India and Sri Lanka, but economically important in Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Coconuts are typically grown by small-scale farmers, who use local mills for fibre extraction.

Production and trade

Globally, about 500 000 tonnes of coir are produced annually, mainly in India and Sri Lanka. Its total value is estimated at $100 million. India and Sri Lanka are also the main exporters, followed by Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. Around half of the coir produced is exported in the form of raw fibre. Smaller quantities are exported as yarn, and as mats and matting.

Uses of coir

India Mart

White coir spun into yarn is used in the manufacture of rope (at left) and, thanks to its strong resistance to salt water, in fishing nets.

Coir Institute, South Africa

Brown coir is used in sacking, brushes, doormats, rugs, mattresses, insulation panels and packaging. In Europe, the automobile industry upholsters cars with pads of brown coir bonded with rubber latex.

Johns India

Geotextiles made from coir mesh (at left) are durable, absorb water, resist sunlight, facilitate seed germination, and are 100% biodegradable.

Shri Vinayakk

Coir peat (right), a residue of milling, is gaining economic importance as mulch, soil treatment and a hydroponic growth medium.