Kerala couple K Kunchankutty and C Lakshmi have been carving out toys, cutlery, and other handicrafts from coconut shells for over a decade. Here’s why they made the switch from farming.
Kerala is known for its lush green cover of coconut trees, and it is said that each and every part of the fruit is used for some purpose or the other. Kottayi natives K Kunchankutty and C Lakshmi use coconut shells to carve beautiful artefacts and daily use items like tea cups, plates, and spoons.
Kunchankutty, who is 72 years old, hails from a farming family. Until 2004, he was engaged in the same occupation, until the field near his house was left barren as a result of a court dispute. So he set out in search of something else to do.
“During the same period my nephew, who is an art enthusiast, came to me asking if I could carve small monkey statues out of coconut shells. I am always interested in experimenting with things and took this up as a challenge. With help from my wife, I carved out a perfect monkey within days,” Kunchankutty tells The Better India.
After a few more experiments, the septuagenarian decided to turn this into something that could generate income.
His 62-year-old wife Lakshmi says, “I have been a part of Kudumbasree” — the poverty eradication and women empowerment programme implemented by the State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM) of the Kerala government – “since 2000. When they came to know that we were making artefacts from coconut shells, they offered us a loan of Rs 60,000 in order to purchase machinery and raw materials. They also helped us set up stalls as part of Saras Fair every month in different districts of Kerala.”
The fair gave the couple a steady income, as well as opportunities to visit and sell their handicrafts in places including Delhi, Kolkata, and Bengaluru through similar galas. “By the advent of the pandemic, which brought travel restrictions, especially to senior citizens, our sales went down. Now, they are slowly picking up,” adds Lakshmi.
From keychains to statues
Kunchankutty and Lakshmi make a variety of items like earrings, keychains, cutlery, flower vases, statues of animals, gods and anything customised. “Cutlery and fish statues are most loved by customers. We get plenty of orders for them. All orders are taken via Kudumbasree, which means we don’t have to pay extra for courier service. They collect orders and send us addresses. We carve the items, pack them, and send them via India Post,” explains Lakshmi.
The couple says that the entire process of making these items is both time as well as energy consuming. “After attending a fair in Thiruvananthapuram, we received an order for 15 fish statues. It took us several days and the customer enquired about the delay. When we explained the process, he visited us personally and suggested we purchase new machinery for smoothening the process. After installing it, our work became much easier,” says the artisan.
The duo collects coconut shells from either wholesale coconut merchants or directly from nearby fields. Kunchankutty makes it clear that the quality of raw material makes the item long lasting and perfect. Dried coconut shells cannot be used for the process as they break soon.
“Spoons and spatulas especially cannot be made with dry shells. Moreover, the ideal shape is necessary when making tea cups and bowls. Thus, we end up hand picking them. Even then, during a purchase of 100 kg, only 70 kg can be used. In the peak months, we have turned up to 200 kg of shells into handicrafts. The price ranges from Rs 50 to Rs 1,000, depending on the product and size,” shares Lakshmi.
The couple has never been able to sell their products outside Kerala, except in fairs, as this requires more focus on packaging. But they guarantee that within a few months, the issue will be sorted and orders will be taken up. “New packaging boxes and materials are ordered. We will be able to courier all over India soon,” assures Lakshmi.
While orders are on hold temporarily, they will resume in a few weeks. To place orders after two weeks, contact 9947646884.
Edited by Divya Sethu