Greater Manas Conservation Project in India helps provide new livelihoods through weaving

“The difference in the lives of these women and their families is evident for all to see." Dr. Bhaskar Choudhury, Regional Head, Assam for IFAW-WTI.This story was compiled by our colleagues Nizira Borgoyary and Shaleen Attre.—JK

Mirina Basumatary used to make routine trips to the forest to sustain her household.

A local resident of one of the fringe villages of Manas National Park, Basumatary said it was very difficult living like that. “Not only do you have natural elements to depend on, but the area is prone to communal violence,” she says. “When there is unrest one cannot even think about going to the forest. We all longed for a way to live with some security.”

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In an effort to help many households like Basumatary’s, the International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife Trust of India has introduced further green livelihood alternatives under the Greater Manas Conservation Project.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Manas is not only full of biodiversity but brims with its own unique culture. Weaving was instilled as a livelihood alternative and 60 women were chosen with the help of village heads based on the proficiency of their skill.

We opened a weaving centre in the Kachugaon division, providing these women with looms and initially raw materials like yarn. More than 55 handlooms have been provided as of today: 8 in Polodobi forest village, 10 in Nabin Nagar, 11 in Sisubari forest village, 21 in Rangijora and 6 in Sourang.

“While some of the beneficiaries work directly from the centre, some of them prefer working from home where they can take care of their young ones and conveniently sell the products at the same time,” explains Sanatan Deka, Sociologist, IFAW-WTI.

All of their products—from Aronai (scarf) to Gamusa (towel)—have a well-established local market, which ensures them an average income of 2000 INR per beneficiary every month.

A souvenir shop was officially opened at a lucrative tourist location in Manas to help the women expand their retail market. “The women are extremely enterprising and are doing very for themselves. They take care of the trade development, designing and marketing, and there are now plans of helping them expand their business,” says Samar Boro, the Field Officer of IFAW-WTI who works with the weavers. “We plan on taking the weavers to exhibitions in Guwahati and exposing them to ‘competitor’ business as well. We will also help them set up an official women’s co-operative .”

A souvenir shop was officially opened at a lucrative tourist location in Manas to help the women expand their retail market. “This is should help maximise profits to a large extent and help increase their income substantially,” says Boro. “Skill development training is also a big item on our agenda and we’re looking at a possible tie-up with the Department of Handloom and Textiles. All of this should help them be independent, business savvy and come up with innovative designs and ideas.”

The program has conquered some obstacles. Early last year, communal violence resulted in partial destruction of the weaving centre at Nabin Nagar. All the families had been shifted to a shelter by the authorities and no one was hurt. The damage to the centre has been recently repaired and four new looms have been installed.

“The difference in the lives of these women and their families is evident for all to see. With the onslaught of habitat degradation any amount of forest saved goes a long way in adding to the foliage we want to see paving the way for the passage of wild animals like the elephant,” says Dr. Bhaskar Choudhury, Regional Head, Assam for IFAW-WTI.

“If it hadn’t been for my employment here we would have had to struggle in getting back on our feet,” says Basumatary. “It’s only because of this income that I and the other women have been able to send our children to school. We can finally live with dignity.”

--JK

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