The textile industry contributes around 4 percent to India’s GDP while the country is the sixth-largest exporter of textiles and apparel. Market data indicates the nation’s textile industry employs around 45 million people, which includes 3.5+ million handloom workers. The industry is expected to be worth more than $209 billion by 2029 highlighting its vast opportunity for growth. Policy support from the government and increasing investments have made the industry more promising overall, buoyed by robust domestic consumption and export demand.
Significantly, India is renowned globally for its variety of natural fibers such as silk, cotton, jute, silk, wool, coir, banana, kenaf, sisal, pineapple, and palm, to name a few. Traditionally, they were used for all practical purposes. Today, these fibers have multiple applications in the textile, furnishing, packaging, construction, and building industries.
During the past two decades, technology has been disrupting myriad industries across India. Despite this, ‘Digital India’ initiatives had not touched the natural fiber industry until recently. In the past few years, however, policy interventions to support both man-made and natural fibers, including a PLI (production-linked incentive) scheme, have benefited industry players. Moreover, the emergence of new-age start-ups leveraging the latest technology tools has also helped transform the natural fibers segment.
Technology for Better Productivity
The plantation site, temperature, humidity, handling method, storage, season, and means of harvesting are all factors influencing the quality and structure of natural fibers. By deploying appropriate technologies, it is possible to drive a dramatic increase in the production and quality of natural fibers.
These outcomes are achieved by providing real-time updates and inputs, faster marketplace access, and seamless logistics that facilitate faster turnaround times from farm to fashion. The best way to ensure a paradigm transformation is via an app-based model powered by IoT devices that are easy to use and resolve problems by plugging into a core technology platform. Apps boost transparency, provide timely scientific advisories and ease the production and supply chain processes.
To elaborate, the Internet of Things (IoT) can be leveraged in varied functions such as temperature check, soil analysis, crop, and harvest monitoring, grading and assessment, as well as in assisting farmers with precise information. These elements help in disease detection and control, thereby augmenting production.
For instance, the rearing of silkworms is a major process done in a controlled environment. Here, IoT-enabled devices can monitor and counsel farmers about adjusting essential parameters within rearing sheds. In addition, the quality of cocoons can be improved, impacting the bottom line for the farmers.
However, large farmers face hurdles since they lack access to modern testing processes. Key technologies that can address the quality challenge comprise artificial intelligence and machine learning. By using AI/ML models, scientific results are obtained to safeguard the quality of cocoons and yarn. Furthermore, data is collected to make such models stronger and more reliable over time, all of which can transform pricing parameters as these are currently arbitrary and heavily skewed towards traders and middlemen.
Thanks to safer financial transactions via apps, logistics tracking, and easy access to weather advisories, technology can offer a massive fillip to improve the quality of natural fibers.
Mitigating Age-old Problems
For years, farmers lacked proper knowledge about the market value of their produce. Take the silk industry where farmers often struggle to receive fair prices earlier since the system lacked technology & processes that could help farmers with pricing their products right. Presently, this problem is being largely mitigated as farmers are educated via the latest tech solutions, including AI-driven cocoon-grading technology. This is done by adapting the renowned Renditta test, which grades the cocoon quality through computer vision and data analytics. Technology has helped regulate a highly unorganized segment, making quality the benchmark for both pricing and production.
To hasten the process, cocoon grading results are provided within a day. By eliminating geographical details, cocoon batches are tagged by their tested quality scores, thereby guaranteeing fair prices. A certificate of quality through this process then reassures farmers and reelers.
Being Natural and Future-ready
As the world seeks to counter the consequences of climate change, natural fibers are increasingly becoming a preferred choice in the textile industry as they substantially lower GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions than synthetic fibers. If India intends to promote natural fiber-based products in national and international markets, dedicated natural fiber resource centers must be established across the country to work dedicatedly on promoting and upgrading technology for producers and weavers of natural fibers. These centers could act as promotion and certification bodies, liaising with diverse stakeholders to advance the interests of workers and producers while promoting the overall welfare of the natural fiber segment in their respective regions.
Such steps can bridge employment gaps as natural fibers are sourced from remote regions of India and will help provide meaningful employment across small towns and villages, with tremendous potential for upskilling through technology.
The National Fibre Policy does mention a few measures for the promotion of natural fibers and specifically on technology advancement through programs such as the Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme. However, more can be done through technological interventions at the grassroots level.
Finally, by leveraging its inherent advantages (more control over production processes, seamless supply chains, faster turnaround times, etc.) and augmenting the income of farmers, reelers, weavers, retailers, and other stakeholders in the natural fiber ecosystem, technology can play a pivotal role in driving paradigm transformation in the natural fibers industry. This includes navigating its way to emerging as part of the future-ready fashion firmament of wearables and temperature-changing smart fabrics, to mention just two points.