A World Built In A Grove — A Series On Bamboo Interventions -II
In the first part of the series, we focused on the history of bamboo’s excellent substance. Bamboo is a material that can be used for many artistic purposes. From ritualistic items to delicious food, bamboo is a highly versatile material that can be commercialized. The bamboo craft is a source of hope and pride for many artisans across India. A World Built In A Grove — A Series On Bamboo Interventions -II will attempt to shed some light upon the socio-economic circumstances of the bamboo artisans. We will unravel some hard truths about the artisan community & the state of traditional handicrafts in our nation. Most of the research credit for this article goes to Bigrai Narzari and their paper “Transitions and Impediments in Bamboo Craftform and The Way Forward In The Udalguri Region.” It was published as a dissertation under the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Part 2: Who are the makers of bamboo products?
Many artisans have taken up bamboo as the livelihood source, because of a rich family or indigenous affinity. The artisans have acquired the skill for the bamboo handiwork from observing fellow artisans or from their ancestors. A deep understanding and high skill-set of indigenous knowledge are often reflected in the crafts that they produce. Thus making the craft a part of culture and heritage.
The average bamboo artisan earns anywhere between Rs. 1000 to 3000 in a week depending on the number of hours and type of products made. Thich means the total monthly income is around Rs. 4000 to Rs. 12000 at maximum. Usually, the artisan works 12–14 hours a day. Since this amount is not nearly enough to run an entire household, the average artisan has to resort to other means of finding an income, such as farming, livestock rearing, wage labour, etc. to meet their expenses.
The Growing Challenges
Bamboo craft and rural handicraft in general works in the unorganized sector. Because of significant infrastructural shortages, the artisans do not have access to a dedicated work shed, storage, or transport facilities. These act as impediments to the proper management of inventory and cost calculations. The artisans in the region, however, lack the financial capability for the necessary technological advancement. They also lack the source of gaining apt knowledge and use of new technology. This poses them with difficulty to meet the ever-changing market demands and rising prices of their daily needs items.
The rapid growth of settlements in certain areas has led to the razing of private bamboo resources to accommodate the land needs of the people. This has heightened the challenges of the artisans in sourcing the raw materials at the right time, adding to their work hours and the productivity of their existing activities directly affecting the income they generate. The local artisans lack financial knowledge and access to formal credit facilities. This forces the artisans to resort to borrowing from SHGs and local moneylenders at high-interest rates, increasing their financial woes.
The Coming Generation And Urbanization
With the rapid urbanization and globalization of markets, the entry of intermediaries the historical relationship between the artisan and the end consumer has broken down. The intermediaries act as an essential knot in the supply chain of bamboo crafts as market links of the artisans. However, often they pay the artisans only a fraction of the prices and keep the rest as their earnings. This can only ruminate as a lack of understanding of the real costs of production, or their ability to force the craftsmen, who do not have much bargaining power. The benefits of the policies formulated for the artisans never reach the last mile leaving out a large number of artisans to fend off for their own.
The next generation seems disinterested in continuing the profession. And the parents too prefer to push them for white-collared jobs. The reason for this being the low incomes and uncertainty associated with the production of handicrafts. Moreover, the parents have experienced the struggles of finding a market and deriving a fair price for their products; they naturally push their children towards white collared jobs in the service sector. The new business in this sector can turn the tables around.
Social entrepreneurship: Transforming The Circumstances Of Artisans.
Mrs. Samira Shah, the Director of Projects at Bhavyta Foundation, says, “Bhavyata Foundation has a long-standing relationship with Sampoorna Bamboo Kendra, Lawada (Melghat) since 2015. Lawada, a tribal village is in interior Maharashtra where our artisan brothers and sisters making beautiful Bamboo rakhis, reside in this inaccessible region of Melghat. Due to inadequate livelihood and limited means of living, they cannot even think about the amenities we enjoy. But they possess artistic sense; they have their essence of art, which they have preserved and reared for generations. We have a special place in our hearts for these artisans and strong bonds that connect us with them.”
In our conversation with Santosh Gaikwad, who works for the cause of these bamboo artisans, says that the artisans are on their way to becoming self-sufficient because of the success of the business. The initiative started a year ago in Vikramgad (Maharashtra), and after training the artisans and procuring raw material, were finalized. The project has now stretched to nine more villages and includes planting bamboo so that there is a steady supply of raw material.
For social entrepreneurship to be successful, consumers have to alter their consumption behaviour. Instead of buying unsustainable goods, it would be much better for us and our country to support local communities and crafts. Academics and environmental activists have also said that the best thing you can do for the environment is to buy local goods as much as you can. And think of it this way, when you buy from these artisans, you are not only purchasing a product. You are supporting a livelihood, preserving culture, and giving a secure future to our generations.