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Bamboo makes Jharkhand tribals stay busy at home


June 21, 2011 - Dumka

For years the adivasis of Jharkhand have been forced to migrate seasonally to areas in Punjab, Assam and Bengal in search of livelihoods and stay away from home for three months in a year.

Something is now changing for the adivasis in the forests of Jharkhand. They have found a homegrown answer to the periods of unemployment or under-employment that a typical agrarian economy invariably throws up.

This answer has come through another homegrown item, bamboo. The slender, green shoots with its delicate, artistic leaves grows in abundance in these forests, a part of the natural environment that every adivasi grows up and lives in. But they are now looking at this tree with renewed eyes.

Bamboo is spawning a new cottage industry, which the adivasis can easily be a part of and earn cash income, which they need direly to supplement their earnings from cultivation and also to substitute their earnings from the seasonal migration.

For years Basanti Tuddu , living in Lavadih village, Shikaripada block, Dumka district used to break larger stones into smaller and still finer ones in stone quarries. So did her husband, Subhash Honsda. Over time, the fine dust they inhaled took its toll on the lungs and Basanti developed TB, forcing her to stop work. With a loss of their only source of income, failing health, the couple faced a frightening future. The shift to bamboo work was a boon.

The handicraft industry in the area has been spurred by organizations such as Evangelical Social Action Forum.(ESAF). It turned out to be a lucky break Subhash Honsda who had an inherent talent, which ESAF spotted and picked him up for training in far-away Trishur, Kerala was given training in crafting products from bamboo. He has shown exceptional talent and was awarded the Chief Minister Arjun Munda prize for his craftsmanship.

ESAF spotted Subhash Honsda's talent early enough and picked him up for training at its Head Office in far-away Trishur, Kerala. After two months, Subhash became a master trainer and once back home in the Jharkhand forest turned his energies into building a small group of local villagers to further impart his skills.

This kind of work has transformed the lives of adivasis in the area in Ghasipur, Rampur, Lakhikundi, Pipra, Bargachi, Kendua, all searching for alternatives to boost their income, which would typically dry up during the lean seasons in the agricultural cycle. Over a period of time this has effectively stopped migration to other parts of the country by opening up this source of income close to their homes and fields.

Lal Tuddu, one of the group member says that he can make many different items with one bamboo. Danial Mohli too nods enthusiastically. Urmila Mohli is buoyed by the appreciation she gets for her craft. It simply makes her day! Often there is more than one member from a family involved, bringing considerable income into the household. Today some 200 men and women in 20 groups are involved in Shikharipada, Dumka district.

Laundry bins, dustbins, decorative items, even furniture are created, all which find ready markets in urban centers, metros. The appeal and charm of eco- friendly products has captured the imagination of international markets and across urban India and there are many takers for the bamboo products of Jharkhand.

Of course, it is the carefully laid network of marketing and sales by ESAF that is putting these items on the shelves of classy, elite outlets like Fab India in Chennai Jharcraft in Ranchi and other outlets in Kolkatta. Craft exhibitions routinely held in metros also provide an excellent window for these products.

Across the state, in Giridih, Goda, Dumka, Pakud, Sahebganj and Jamtada, training-cum-production centers have opened up, providing livelihoods for some 2000 families. Craftspersons get compensated for their labour and are unconcerned with the rest of the marketing chain. This is quite different from local traditional crafts where the craftpersons often are in direct dealing with the markets through middlemen who lop off a major portion of earnings from the sale.

What is marvelous is how a natural forest produce like bamboo a part of the lives of tribal people for centuries has now found a new use. Today when livelihood options can open up through linking with markets, this has enabled tribal communities to move from traditional sources of income to modern market-based ones.

Recently there has been a move and rightly so to include bamboo as 'Minor Forest Produce' allowing forest dwelling communities and adivasis unhindered access to bamboo. This is the region, which has bamboo growing in abundance. ESAF has made a success of converting this natural wealth and human resources into new wealth of a different kind. If this can happen at Shikarpada, then why not in other areas in Jharkhand, which has 23605 square km of forests, of which 843 square km is bamboo? It could be a big idea waiting to happen.

Of course, there is no denying the social commitment in the initiative. This is amply evident not only in the larger mission of providing livelihoods but also in smaller steps to improve the quality of the lives of the community. One will find a medley of children playing and studying in 'Bal Shiksha Kendras' established near the production centers.

This has prompted NABARD to come forward to support the initiative through SHG groups set up by ESAF. Clearly all this takes the bamboo initiative well beyond the contours of a commercial success, actually touching and changing lives. Infusing hope and more.

The Charkha Development Communication network says there is a sense of pride in one's capability, a newfound security amidst the tough options of earning a decent livelihood. Sudhir Kumar, ESAF Manager-Business Development sums it up succinctly "The success of the initiative can be gleaned from smiles on the faces of the adivasis". By Shailendra Sinha

ANI

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