NATURAL FIBRE CRAFT SECTOR

Since 2000 KIDS main emphasis has been on the improvement of the conditions of the people through various interventions with the expert services available to the organization. The implementation of community development programmes by KIDS wholly concentrates on the adoption of consistent policies, specific administrative arrangements, recruitment and training of personnel, mobilization of resources and organization of research, experimentation and evaluation. KIDS is giving extreme importance for the development of various clusters as ideal community based units for integrated village development. Facilitation for proper networking within the various sub groups for the effective management and achieving sustainability of different initiatives is yet another spotlight for the upcoming phase. KIDS’ approach towards the different income generation activities and development programmes as a cluster reveals the fact that recent trends in the development scenario are highly adopted KIDS selected 3000 of the 30,000 artisanal women (most of those engaged in the craft are women) in this area to form a cluster. They were grouped into Self-Help Groups (SHGs). The SHG is envisaged as the basic unit or nucleus of the organizational frame of the cluster. Twenty neighborhood families of homogeneous character sharing a common bondage make an SHG. The fundamental value and thrust of the group is sharing and cooperation. In an SHG sharing through cooperation they are expected to transcend all spheres of the life and behavior of the community and more particularly concentrate on endeavors that provide progressive existence. Five SHGs form an apex body called Mahila Mandal.

Organizing SHGs into clusters have proven to be highly useful for the sustainability of the Initiatives undertaken by them. Each cluster is envisaged to be a self sufficient community based structure having specialized group of persons for various sections. The networking of various specialized persons within the cluster is found to be the reason for its success. Facilitation for this proper networking is the most important responsibility of an NGO. KIDS give prime importance for this facilitation process. The clusters developed and facilitated by KIDS are expected to be models which can be replicated by other NGOs and the Government.

1.1. SCREWPINE CRAFT

Screwpine (Tazha in Malayalam) is a small spreading evergreen tree up to 6m high with stout prop roots, which firmly anchor the tree in loose sand. The large light green leaves are spirally arranged on the stems. They are usually 90-150 cm long and 5-7m wide, with small white upturned spines along the leaf edges. The heavy heads hang from very stout branches and can remain on the tree for over 12 months. All Screwpine plants belong to the genus Pandanus which is a large and complex genus found worldwide on tropical and subtropical coasts and also extending to inland areas of the moist tropics. This tropical plant is known for its soil conser-vation properties. Its fine natural fibre, one of the best of its kind in the world, has been in use for centuries for making bed mats. The emergence of cheaper plastic mats paved the way for its being forced out of homes.

Screwpine is a mangrove associate and has an exceptional capacity for the protection of the banks of rivers and canals from erosion. Its fibrous root system also helps in keeping the alluvial soil intact and maintaining the water-holding capacity of the soil. Screwpine provides great refuge for a number of organisms, especially fish, for which areas growing the plant are ideal breeding and nursery ground for raising their young ones. The plant can tolerate both freshwater and saline conditions. Therefore it has great relevance in an area like Kodungallur where one can find rivers joining saline backwaters and then the Arabian Sea on which thousands of fishermen depend. Because of all these, Screwpine is ecologically considered a ‘key stone species’, which is a must for the ecological balance of this area.
Screwpine mat weaving is an ancient craft and a cottage industry. However, the artisans are sticking on to the production of mats alone. Though because of the availability of cheaper plastic mats, Screwpine mats are less preferred, plastic is known to be a serious ecological problem and Screwpine is gaining in demand. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has classified it as an ideal alternative to plastic.

In the 2010 Budget of Kerala Government, the Honourable Finance Minister Dr. Thomas Isaac sanctioned a Screwpine Craft Cluster to Kodungallur area where Screwpine craft was a major contributor to the local economy. This cluster will uplift the life conditions of thousands of poor artisans in the area. Many women from Kudumbashree, will start earning and hence their status in the family and in the society will improve. By this cluster, it is meant to have all the A to Z activities in a specific geographical locality. The activities start from raw material collection to marketing the finished products. Assurance of sustainable availability of the raw material is one of the key factors which will decide the success of the cluster. Though the raw material, the Screwpine plant was available in plenty, now a day it is decreasing due to various reasons. Now the raw material is not even available for the existing craft practices. In the proposed Screwpine cluster project, a large quantity of Screwpine would be required. If the cluster project is to be a success, the availability of the required quantity of Screwpine should be assured.

Now a days the crafts have been diversified from mere mat to plenty of daily utility items. Designers gave skill up gradation training to the traditional artisanal women, enabling them to learn how to make value-added products, which have already started fetching good prices with the result that new-generation girls of the families are attracted to the craft. The inputs from fashion designers are also encouraging them. The artisans were also given training in developing new designs. They are encouraged to attend various exhibitions in the country. Besides bed mats, the artisans are now making products like vanity bags, carry-bags, wastepaper baskets, newspaper holders, laundry boxes, files, interior decoration items etc. The Screwpine crafts of Kerala is include in Geographical Indication Registry. The artisans get training in planting of screwpine, collection of the leaves once in three months without harming the plant, management of raw material, dyeing using both eco-free and permitted dyes as well as organic dyes, stitching and splicing of the leaves, fumigating, packing etc which makes them professionally competent to meet international demands. KIDS has played a mojor role in getting the Screwpine crafts of Kerala registered under Geographical Indication Registry (GIR). By registering under GIR, the Screwpine products of Kerala are conferred a legal protection. It prevents unauthorized use of Screwpine products of Kerala. The registration will boost exports of the craft and it will promote economic prosperity of poor artisans. This registration also enables seeking legal protection in other WTO members countries.
In coastal areas of Kerala, Screwpine craft has contributed much to the nourishment of local economy. Screwpine mat weaving was a major bread-donor to many households especially in Famine months. That status of Screwpine craft as a silent contributor to the economic empowerment of the rural poor artisans is now a days getting revived because of the interventions of KIDS. The economic benefit is not bounded to the artisans, but it starts from the ones who cultivate the plant to the ones who market the finished products. There are many women, earn merely selling the dried leaves.

Though the required Screwpine leaves for the crafts are available now, foreseeing the great boost in the industry because of its environmental friendliness and income generating potential, the required amount of Screwpine as a raw material would not be available in the future. If the required Screwpine would not be available, the entire craft practice would be diminished. So Screwpine plants are to be cultivated in advance not only to ensure the continuous availability of raw material for the craft but also to protect the banks of our rivers and other watercourses and to protect the fertility of our land by preventing soil erosion.

Recently Kerala State Government has earmarked Rupees One Crore for KIDS in order to develop tissue culture protocol and sapling of Screwpine plant. This research work will be done by Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Palode, Thiruvananthapuram. Through the representations from KIDS Screwpine craft products have been completely exempted from Sales Tax in the Kerala State budget 2008-09. It is very evident from the Sales Tax exemption that the Kerala Government is very much interested in Screwpine crafts as a livelihood security programme. In consideration of all the above mentioned factors, Screwpine craft has to be considered as a dependable cottage industry for livelihood security of thousands of rural poor.

1.2. Water hyacinth:
Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), though native to South America, is now an environmental and social menace throughout the tropical and subtropical world. This is undoubtedly the weed for which the world has spent maximum money for eradication. But water hyacinth has survived all such efforts. The problems posed by water hyacinth are multifaceted. It has severe impacts on aquatic biodiversity, aquatic plant community, structure and succession, inland navigation, flow of water, human health and the livelihood of fishermen, and causes substantially increased loss of water by evapo-transpiration. As both the biological and chemical methods for the control of these weeds are not found effective, their proper and efficient utilization is a highly sustainable and sensible option, though this has not been efficiently developed

KIDS’ research and development (R and D) wing has found that the petiole of water hyacinth is an excellent soft and spongy natural fibre which can be weaved as such for making wall matting, door mats, cushions, hats, purses etc, or can be easily blended with other materials like coir, banana fibre, screwpine, reeds, bamboo, sedges, sea grass, jute etc. Water hyacinth fibre is also found to have great affinity for basic dyes. By using the mordent, natural dyes can also be conveniently used for colouring this fibre.
The alarming increase of the use of plastic is threatening the life of the people and the health of this planet. Attempts are made around the world to reduce the non-degradable plastics. The present project could certainly come forward with several general utility items, which can be used as alternatives for many plastic products.

1.3. Poverty faced by craft workers: The natural fibre artisanal communities in the area were facing severe poverty as their level of skill was for making mats alone. They make both screwpine mats and reed mats. KIDS with the assistance of the Ministry of Textiles encouraged the screwpine artisanal people to make more value-added products, which are having good market. Good design experts were of great help in this regard. This has helped nearly 400 poor rural women to find year-round and dependable income. But the area consists of 60,000 artisanal families and the water hyacinth craft cluster to be formed, as part of this project, shall provide assured and increased income for around 300 families.

Some of the natural fibre products, developed as part of this project, can be an alternative for non-degradable plastic products like laundry baskets, table mats, vanity bags, wastepaper baskets etc. The natural fibre products developed in this manner can provide a good livelihood support for the poor rural women of the area.

1.4. Target group and project beneficiaries: The most important target groups of the project are the SHG women and their families. The project is expected to improve the quality of life of these families by ensuring their livelihood security. The local administrative bodies, which are spending lakhs of rupees for mechanical removal of water hyacinth, will find this project an eye-opening model. Collaboration with local bodies shall be made in this regard. The other target groups include the hundreds of traditional inland fishermen, people using inland waters for navigation, irrigation, drinking water, local washing etc, who are the inhabitants of the local bodies.
The other important target group is the poor rural women who depend upon natural fibre craft. As part of this project these women will be trained how to use the spongy natural fibre of water hyacinth directly for making craft items like table mats, hand purses, hats, mats and mattings, blinds, cushions etc. and also to blend them with coir, reeds, bamboo, screwpine, banana fibre, arecanut palm leaf base, sedges etc for making a series of general utility items which can be used as alternative for plastic products.
Water hyacinth, which is a plentifully locally available material, shall be encouraged and trained to be used as the prime raw material for natural fibre craft by the rural women. Thus a ‘water hyacinth fibre craft cluster’ shall be formed incorporating all the craft persons involved in this project.

2. Achievements of KIDS in Natural Fibre Sector

2.1. Registration of KIDS as a Fair Trade Organisation by Fair Trade Forum – India, New Delhi.
Considering the efforts of KIDS in promoting Natural Fibre Crafts and helping the rural poor artisans to earn a sustainable income, KIDS has been registered as a Fair Trade Organisation by Fair Trade Forum India, New Delhi. Fair Trade Forum – India (FTF-I) is the national level networking organization of grassroots artisan/producer groups, facilitating organizations and individuals who comply with the Fair Trade standards. FTF-I represents its member fair trade organizations all over India to grow fair trade visibility & standards through advocacy, lobbying, training and monitoring. Fair Trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate and flowers.

2.2. Exemption of Screwpine products from Sales Tax
As a result of KIDS’ continuous communication with Hon’ble Finance Minister, Govt. of Kerala, Screwpine crafts have been totally exempted from Sale Tax. Before this exemption, the artisans used to pay 8 % Sales Tax. This Tax Exemption was a great catalyst in increasing the sales and export of Screwpine products.

2.3. Inclusion of Screwpine products in Geographical Indication Registry.
The Screwpine crafts of Kerala have been registered under Geographical Indication registry. There is a long history of hard work by KIDS behind the inclusion of Screwpine Crafts in Geographical Indication registry. A geographical indication is an indication or appellation of origin of a product. It is used to identify agricultural, natural or manufactured goods which are originated in the said area and continuing in the same area. The registered products should have a special quality or characteristics or reputation based upon the climatic or production characteristics unique to the geographical location.

By registering under GIR, the Screwpine products of Kerala are conferred a legal protection. It prevents unauthorized use of Screwpine products of Kerala. The registration will boost exports of the craft and it will promote economic prosperity of poor artisans. This registration also enables seeking legal protection in other WTO member countries.

2.4. Dyeing and Drying Yard
For any industry, hygienic conditions for the workers in a must. In our case, most hygienic dyeing and drying facilities are created for the rural artisan women who work in the natural fibre sector. These SHG women are showing meticulous capacity in performing dyeing using dyes.

2.5. Effluent Treatment Plant
KIDS is facilitating for the using of permitted dyes for dyeing. Dyes which are permitted in Western Europe and United states is must for doing any kind of production, which is oriented towards export. Moreover the water after dyeing which is called effluent water needs to be treated as per the international criteria in order to maintain environmental security. The water after dyeing is passed into a primary collection tank. This water is continuously agitated and made to undergo primary, Secondary and tertiary treatment. This water is passed through Sand filter and Charcoal filter and finally it will be exposed to understand the most sophisticated processes of Reverse Osmosis (RO) in which RO membranes are imported from United States. The same water if necessary can also be used for dyeing so that water can be completely recycled. This initiative explicitly shows the commitment of KIDS and also how far an industry can run in the friendliest manner.

2.6. Establishment of Sales Emporia
The first time in the State KIDS has been awarded full fledged sales Emporia by the Ministry of Textiles for the promotion of natural fibre products of the SHG artisans of the area. This Emporia is expected to be of great help for the poor rural artisans who otherwise find it very difficult to market the products in an organized manner.