In the age of modernisation and globalisation, the priceless natural resources offered by Mother Earth have been mostly neglected. While struggling to get proper livelihood, we often neglect the Natural resources surrounding us like water, forests, biomass resources, livestock, fisheries, vegetation etc. These are the basic foundation of human survival, prosperity and progress. These are getting degraded fast for reasons mostly caused by human beings either knowingly or unknowingly. If the Natural resources are used properly then it can offer various sustainable livelihood options. Sustainable use of natural resources can provide nutritional food, environmental and livelihood security in the country. Apart from the economic benefits, the sustainable use of natural resources also assures persistent application of environmentally friendly techniques in various income generating sectors.
The islands of Indian Sundarban are surrounded by Bay of Bengal and river Ganges and other rivers like Ichamati, Matla, Raimangal River etc. The rivers carry the silts, water hyacinths, land wastage and other organic garbage from across the country. Lots of water hyacinth can be noticed floating in the rivers and canals across the islands. Water hyacinth, which is considered as one of worst aquatic weeds in the world, is a free floating perennial plant. It grows abundantly in ponds, lakes, rivers and in any kind of natural water bodies. It can form a huge blanket above the water bodies if the growth is not controlled. Usually, people throw it away when grows in their ponds. It stops the flow of water through the canals so usually these are thrown away to keep the water bodies clean and free flowing. But, no one thought that this mere weed can become a major source of income for a community.
Women collecting water hyacinth
SEED (Society for Socio Economic and Ecological Development) is a non-government organisation, which is working for the development of coastal communities of Sundarban and its biodiversity conservation since a decade, has initiated a new alternate livelihood option in Sundarban. Mr. Prashanta Chowdhury, an eminent nature craft designer by profession, has been associated with SEED for a long time. He suggested this unique idea of alternate livelihood for the coastal communities of Sundarban. He has been offering training support to many poor women to prepare various decorative materials using this weed water hyacinth since last few years. He is a true believer of nature craft so all the items prepared under his supervision uses only natural resources which requires very low investment. He has successfully implemented this livelihood option in Kamdevkathi village of North 24 Parganas in West Bengal. In 2007, he started this work with only 12 women in his team. Now, many families are surviving by preparing these nature craft items using natural resources like water hyacinth and other easily available flowers like roses, marigold and bamboos. So, SEED decided to implement this nature craft items as source of income for a small group of coastal community initially.
Processing of Water Hyacinth after dryingThe coastal communities in Sundarban have limited livelihood options like fishing, prawn seed and crab collecting or agriculture. But, climate change has hindered their earning from agriculture too. The delay in rainy season, increasing salinity of agricultural land due to cyclone and sea level rise, has hampered their regular earning sources. Moreover, the coastal communities of Sundarban have negligible literacy so they cannot opt for other profession. They also cannot afford initial capital investment to start any micro entrepreneurship. So, here, the organisation has planned to train them in a skill which does not require enough education and initial investment. Moreover, as the crafts use only natural items, the biodiversity of the islands will also not be disturbed.
Women working on Photo frames
To start with, few women SHGs in Sagar Island will be trained by Mr. Chowdhury and his team in the art of nature craft. Initially, this alternate livelihood process will be applied to only few families, who will be interested in this craft. The items prepared using water hyacinth includes Lamp sheds, Photo frame, coaster set, pully pad, shopping bags, jewellery box, painting frame, notepad, diary cover etc. as well as various other household and office decorative items with floral design. All the items are made of recyclable materials and are given beautiful and ethnic exclusive design.
According to Mr. Chowdhury, if a person is given proper training of six months, he or she will be skilled in this profession and can earn sufficient money to meet the basic requirements of the family. The nature crafts items prepared by Mr. Choudhury and his team, have already reached international market like USA. These items have also received applauds at different trade fairs at national level. With the support and training from him, SEED plans to extend it to interior decoration, false ceiling, partition wall, panelling etc.
Products prepared by water hyacinthWater hyacinth is easily available in Sundarban’s water bodies so it will not be tough for the artisans to get raw materials. Apart from this, the craft items also use other easily available flower petals like roses and marigold. So, the poor people can use this livelihood option for the upliftment of their economic condition. Intially, the learner women group will be involved in basic works like framing and pasting of flower petals and in decorating them. When they become expert in this skill, the communities will be handling the total work on their own. Later, the items will be presented in various exhibitions so that they get recognition and a position in the market. It is not a quick earning option initially but once their products get positioned in the market, a good demand can be expected as everyone prefers natural and recyclable products now-a-days.
The youths, who are busy in their day time, can also contribute in this work when they are free at night. Those who have passion for art and painting can go for drawing and this can be utilised in the craft materials. This will definitely open up a new avenue for the poor coastal people who have the zeal to work but do not have any special skill for that. The water hyacinth which they ignored and threw away from their ponds will offer them a bright livelihood option in the near future.
Apart from this, the water hyacinth can also be also used as environment-friendly source of fuel since it’s an excellent source of biogas. It contains high amount of hydrocarbons. With minimum pollution, water hyacinth can also be used to produce biogas.
We hope to offer a good alternate livelihood option and also used it as environment friendly fuel for the coastal people of Sundarban. This project aims to empower local coastal communities to manage the coastal ecosystem and resources through these sustainable livelihood techniques. It will also help in reducing the pressure on coastal and marine ecosystems.
We will keep updating on this as we progress with our intervention.