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Tuesday, Apr 15, 2003

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AP Govt prompts SHGs to set up cottage units for jute products

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AS awareness among the general public is growing about the perils of plastic products and the environmental degradation they cause, the demand for jute products such as carry-bags, schoolbags and wall-hangings is on the rise but there are not enough number of small-scale and cottage units to meet it.

The State Government is taking steps, especially in the north-coastal districts of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam, to encourage the self-help groups of women to set up cottage units.

Women are imparted training in the manufacture of jute products at the training and technology development centres affiliated to the district rural development agencies (DRDAs) and encouraged to set up units on a co-operative basis. In the initial stages, they are also given some marketing support and later they fend for themselves.

"We have identified the manufacture of jute products such as school-bags and wall-hangings as one of the potentially successful avenues of creating employment for groups of rural women but there are also certain constraints," says Ms E. Nagalakshmi, the administrative officer in charge of the training and technology development centre at Pendurthi in Visakhapatnam district.

The availability of quality jute fibre at an affordable cost is the main constraint. "We don't get quality fibre in the jute mills here. It has to be imported from West Bengal, mainly Kolkata, and the raw material supplies are erratic and the prices are also on the higher side," she complains. (Jute produced in Andhra Pradesh, mainly in the districts of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam, is an inferior variety known as mesta which is not suitable for jute diversified products. It is used only for sacks.)

In spite of the constraint, she says, the district administration is setting up banks of raw jute and supplying the women the raw material at reasonable rates.

"An unemployed rural woman can earn up to Rs 100 a day and we are getting master trainers from West Bengal to impart these skills to women in these parts," says Ms Nagalakshmi.

"We earn Rs 2 or so per bag by selling them in Visakhapatnam and other nearby towns such as Vizianagaram, Anakapalle and Srikakulam.

However, raw material is too costly. It costs Rs 20 or so to buy a metre of jute fibre from Kolkata," says Ms R. Varalakshmi, the leader of a women's group at Pendurti, which has set up a jute unit. She has urged the State Government to supply jute at a subsidy and encourage such units.

Mr B.V. Rama Rao, Chairman of Jute Manufacturers and Export Council, says there are 1,500 such tiny units in the country engaged in the manufacture of diversified jute products, more than 600 of them in West Bengal alone.

"In AP, there are hardly 120 units and only now a few more units are coming up in the north-coastal Andhra. The State Government should encourage them all over the State, especially in view of its stated policy to encourage women self-help groups," he has said.

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