• Team MMB

Creating opportunities, sustaining lives: Here is how the NE story was revamped by the Government

Continuous improvement in technology makes water hyacinths transform from a waste to boon :

The Northeastern states have always been suffering from the problem of these water hyacinth plants, the world’s worst aquatic weeds, in their floodplains. They can grow to a height of 3 feet, duplicating themselves every five days and can be found anywhere, from shallow water to muddy streams, from ponds to spoiling your boat rides in the lakes. Besides directly clogging the waterways, affecting the irrigation and hydroelectric generation, destroying the natural wetlands and also hampering the aquatic habitats, they have a role to play in the increase of diseases caused by mosquitoes. Introduced by the colonisers, this most successful coloniser in plant kingdom soon started getting called as the ‘Bengal Terror’ or the ‘Blue Devil’.

Until a decade ago, during the Northeast India Investment Opportunities Week organised in Bangkok, Thailand, the officials of NEDFi (North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd) were attracted by the high-quality bags and basketry produced by the water hyacinth. Envisaging the potential back home, they soon zeroed in on this wonder weed which since then has changed the lives of thousands. Having a reputation for providing financial assistance to micro, medium and large enterprises for setting up industrial infrastructures and agro-allied projects in the Northeast India, NEDFi soon began a joint initiative with North Eastern Council (NEC), Ministry of DoNER and Govt. of India to popularise the art of water hyacinths for making eco-friendly handicraft products in the region.

This was because Northeast has always been dependent on cane and bamboo for the production of handicrafts but their irregular supply had always been a cause of concern for the artisans, whereas, there is an availability of water hyacinths as raw material in abundance. People realised its capability to replace jute, cane and bamboos. Women in these villages were already well versed with knitting, braiding, weaving and other similar crafts, therefore, they showed interest in learning this new skill once provided with the training. Therefore in no time, this proved to be a success. It was effectively utilised to make and promote eco-friendly products, which in turn rejuvenated the environment and especially empowered women in rural areas.

NEDFi soon started participating in different exhibitions throughout the nation. This popularised the products and gave an exposure to the artisans. They now have their own ‘Craft Gallery’ in Guwahati. A permanent exhibition platform named ‘NEDFi Haat’ also thrives in the heart of the city, a common facility and research and development centre at the Assam-Manipur borders of Khetri along with a number of showrooms across the northeastern region. Besides NEDFi has now started NE-SHILP (North East Society for Handicraft Incubation and Livelihood Promotion) under their CSR activity for promoting crafts of the eight northeastern states of India.

‘It was both fun and challenging. Our initiative was to create a miracle from this menace,’ says Saurav Sarmah, Assistant Manager, NEDFi, who is the treasurer of NE-SHILP. Talking about the interesting story of NE-SHILP, he adds ‘In 2012, we were awarded the prestigious Rural Innovation Award from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

‘One of the best parts of this craft is that it is flexible. There is no fixed time for the artisans to make their products. We work hard when there is a bulk order. Further, the artisans need not come out of their houses in search of jobs, maybe that’s why this craft receives such prompt and wide acceptance among rural women,’ says Bicky, one of the mentors at the Khetri centre.

‘Mentor’ is another introduction by NEDFi to help the artisans. Their job is to regularly visit the artisans, guide them to improve the quality of their products and finally collect their products for sale. The mentors also create awareness among the artisans regarding the need for small savings. The NEDFi officials organise regular meetings between mentors, master artisans and the marketing team to discuss technology, review prices and other matters relating to the craft.

Today, the water hyacinth has become the ‘Pearl of Water’, covering over 1,500 skilled and expert artisans in the five northeastern states: Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur. The Government of Assam under the Leadership of Sarbananda Sonowal has been working effectively to uplift and alleviate marginalised groups in Assam. To keep updated on news from all over Assam, and everything positiv; follow @ManuheManuhorbabe1 on Twitter and on Facebook.

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