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NGO Uses Bamboo Products To End Village’s Agrarian Crisis, Uplift 200 Artisans

People come from all over to India to marvel at the handcrafted bamboo products of Thrikkaipetta village in Kerala, which is now on the global eco-tourism map thanks to Uravu Indigenous Science and Technology Study Centre

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Jewellery, lampshades, pens, flower pots, sculptures, cloth hangers, storage containers, musical instruments, decorative items, houseboats, bottles, face masks — you name it, and the highly talented craftsmen of Thrikkaipetta village in north Kerala’s Wayanad district will make it for you.

Officially known as the ‘Heritage Village of Bamboo’, Thrikkaipetta is situated atop Manukkunu Hills. The village is an ornithologist’s paradise, with an abundance of 140 bird species and plantations like areca nut, coffee, pepper, tea and more.

However, it is the humble bamboo based activities that have put this place with a population of little over 20,000 on the global eco-tourism map.

People not just from across India but also the world travel to Thrikkaipetta for multiple reasons, ranging from learning and experiencing the diverse world of bamboo, trying their hands at making bamboo products or simply shopping for indigenous products (which are also available online)

But it’s pertinent to note that while the village is now a flourishing region booming with livelihood opportunities, it was once reeling under a severe agrarian crisis and farmer suicides.

But things changed 1996 onwards, Uravu Indigenous Science and Technology Study Centre (UISTSC) was formed to uplift farmers through bamboo plantations and promote traditional sustainable handicrafts.

“When we moved here in 1996, we noticed that the traditional practice of bamboo products had been slowly disappearing. Plastic items were rapidly penetrating Indian households at the time, and we began Uravu in such circumstances. Bamboo is good for the environment, as it helps preserve soil, grows fast, and is termite-resistant. It is the green gold material of the 21st century,” Sivaranjan tells The Better India.

Dr Abdullakutty AK with visitors in Uravu

The founding members of Uravu are Dirar and Suneesh from Thrissur, Anthony CP and Sivaraj from Kozhikode, Girija and Sreelatha from Wayanad. Many people have associated with Uravu over the years. Today the organisation is managed by a core committee consisting of 11 members with Dr K.K. Seethalakshmi as the President and Tony Paul as the Chief Executive Officer.

The non-profit organisation launched its operations by training eight families, and presently, close to 200 families are directly earning through Uravu. From weaving baskets to building houses from bamboo, the upward trajectory of this village is praiseworthy.

Building Uravu, one artisan at a time

The core members of the organisation involved private and government entities from the very beginning to provide funds, training and resources for the project. Initially, finding skilled artisans was a challenge, so Uravu brought in several experts to impart training.

Bhimrao Chaple, master craftsman from Maharashtra, and his guru Vinu Kale, another legendary bamboo enthusiast, arrived here in 1997. Together, they trained the villagers over 15 years in various fields.

Vinu Kale has been instrumental in connecting Uravu to IITs and bamboo products with the latest technologies. He suggested the names of several experts who we could call to impart training.

To arrange funds and save on expenses, the organisation applied for various grants, schemes such as Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development and the Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana (RSVJ) programme. The organisation also joined hands with Ambedkar Hast Shilp Vikas Yojana (AHVY) and NABARD to develop units to manufacture bamboo products.

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Among the artisans trained, 90% are women who prefer working from home. The beneficiaries are organised in the form of  17 Self-Help Groups (SHGs). They regularly receive pre and post production support required for sustaining their enterprise like raw material, technical support, design support and market linkages through Uravu’s Livelihood Support Program. 

“Initially, the income was low but they continued working as it was better than being unemployed. In the 90s, daily earnings were around Rs 30, but presently an SHG member can earn up to Rs 40,000 per month, depending on their skills,” says Tony.

And it’s not just bamboo handicrafts and training that the organisation offers. Urava is also dipping its toe in the pool of multiple verticles. This includes the Common Facility Centre (CFC) for bamboo treatment processing and supply of quality raw material, Bamboo Nursery and Plantation with the mandate of propagation of quality seedlings and raising scientifically managed plantations, Bamboo Construction and Green Architecture focusing on sustainable buildings, Projects and Consultancy session for bamboo value chain based interventions alongside the Livelihood Support Programme and skill development divisions.

The organisation has two categories of units — one where artisans come on the Uravu premises to work, and another wherein they are allowed to work from home or from the CFC closest to their house. This flexible aspect is a major reason why most villagers have been working with Uravu for several years now.

This includes Jameela, a 20-year-old associate of Uravu, and a single parent who supports her daughter and mother. As the president of the Kalpetta bamboo cluster, she started training artisans five years ago.

“I have attended several workshops, trained many people, explored places outside Kerala, and interacted with several bigwigs, ministers and officials, all because of Uravu and its Livelihood Support Programme,” she says.

‘Bamboozling’ the world

The nursery has more than 58 varieties of bamboo species, making it the largest bamboo nursery in South India in terms of diversity. It was started to promote bamboo plantation in collaboration with the panchayat, villagers and voluntary organisations. The farmers are encouraged to help in planting and in return they can take the seedlings.

To spread awareness and educate more people, Uravu organises annual exhibitions, and invites students from institutions such as NIFT and IITs. They collaborate with agencies like UNDP and educational institutions to conduct learning workshops. People are also welcome to stay as a tourist and learn everything about Uravu.

“We are in a phase of reshaping ourselves to meet the demands and challenges of the changing times. In 2019, a few of our craftsmen had the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka through the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and impart their wisdom. Although we have done training in many parts of India, this is the first time that we went abroad. We have had people from many countries visiting us, and our commitment is towards creating a system, a model that would unleash the potential of bamboo as a multifaceted development tool and a true driver of sustainable development” says Tony.

You can reach Uravu here.

Edited by Divya Sethu 

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