Resource detail

Title: Water Hyacinth Craft Project
Organization:North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi) and the North Eastern Council
Source:Ashim Kumar Das. Integrated Programme for Development of Water Hyacinth Craft in NER ‐ An initiative to create wealth from Menace. Guwahati, Assam: 10pp.

Background: It is a unique enterprise set up by the joint initiative of the North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi) and the North Eastern Council (NEC) that has brought the north eastern community together to popularize the weaving craft among the members of that community and to make it into a source of livelihood for them. The project has borrowed skill expertise and ideas from National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad as well as acquired a brand identity under the name, ’Aqua Weaves.’ While the inputs by NID helped increase productivity and reduce costs, branding helps in creation of a consumer base and allows for selling the products under a known tag. The artisans also participated in a workshop conducted by Thai Experts to learn techniques that are already prevalent in their country, where this craft has been practiced for more than 40 years. The Water Hyacinth Craft Project received the NABARD Award for Rural Innovation in 2012.

Challenge: The high cost and irregular supply of raw materials for the artisans associated with the Cane and Bamboo Craft required seeking of alternatives where the existing skills of the workers could be put to use and a sustainable livelihood could be attained. The water hyacinth plant was considered to be a weed in the water bodies of the north eastern region.

Initiative: NEDFi took the initiative of popularizing the use of water hyacinth to make eco-friendly handicraft items. The initiative also provided training to laborers and empowered them to transform the abundant and seemingly useless natural resource available to them into products that could be sold off in the market.

The best plants are first selected according to their size with respect to the final product that has to be made, for example mats, bags and baskets use long hyacinth plants. It is then cut into the desired size and sun dried in order to minimize the moisture content. The well dried stems are then flattened with the help of bamboo and hammer stone. After smoothening the rough edges the stems are knit into the desired designs. Numerous items can be made from these dried stems like lamps, bags, furniture, mirror frames, toys, buckets, dustbins, coasters, laundry basket, paper racks, flower vases, boxes, hats, etc. The production process has also infused technology, such as use of standard moulds, flattening machines, stitching machines, looms etc. The final product is then decorated to make it eye-catching for potential customers by using attractive paint, beads, yarn, silk, cotton, jute flower, cane, bamboo, golden zori etc. The product is then packaged using plastic/bubble wrap/ cardboard/craft paper and is stored in cool dry conditions, at least 6 inches from the floor. The final product is labeled and is ready for sale.

Use of technology as well as skill development programs like awareness generation, basic training, specialized project specific training program and workshops have been inculcated in order to increase productivity and generate high quality products.

The product has been made popular by the artisans who participate in various ‘haats’, show rooms, exhibitions and ‘craft melas.’ NedFi-Haat for example has been set up by NedFi in Guwahati (since 2002) which serves as a permanent exhibition and popular platform to provide market linkage to the weavers associated with this project.

Table: Stepwise Establishment of the Water Hyacinth Project

Outcome/Benefits: The benefits of this initiative have been multifold. What was considered as a weed before is now used as raw material for production of eco friendly handicrafts. Teaching artisans the skill of weaving and stitching helps them achieve a sustainable income and also empowers the women who are involved in this work. Also, when artisans themselves become brand ambassadors for these products it shapes their personalities and motivates them as rural innovators and entrepreneurs. The project has thus helped in the rejuvenation of the local environment and facilitated micro financing of the communities involved thus making them self reliant. Also, an experiment conducted in 2011 found that compost can be prepared within 35 days from the rejected parts of the plant (since the artisans were only using long stems) by using Effective Micro-organism technology.

Commercially tested: Yes