India Interior

No longer just forest residue

Sarita Brara | Updated on November 16, 2019 Published on November 16, 2019

Women in HP are becoming financially independent thanks to pine needles

Twarkodevi is a post-graduate in Hindi but her earnings come not from academics but from handicraft items she weaves with dry pine needles available around her About two years ago, along with 30 other women, she took part in a workshop and a week-long training in this craft in Karsog, Mandi district, Himachal Pradesh. Within a year, Twarkodevi, from Swan Mahunag village, had earned over ₹50,000 from selling a variety of items she made from this forest residue. Pine needles are found in abundance in the cheedh and deodar-rich forests of the State and to put them to use, the forest department organised a training programme for women in villages that come under the forest area.

The initiative was undertaken with two objectives in mind — that of clearing the forests of dry pine needles that catch fire very quickly and prove a fire hazard; and to help women create handicraft that would bring them an income of their own, explains District Forest Officer, Karsog, Raj Kumar Sharma.

The Swan Mahunag self-help group (SHG) has since put up stalls at the famous Mahunag fair, the Saras fair in Dharamshala and the Udaan mela in Shimla and has been able to sell its products, ranging from flower vases, table sheets, plates and dishes to baskets and bags of various shapes and sizes, made with pine needles.

“We realised after participating in these fairs that buyers were more interested in products made from pine needles than other items that we used to make from waste materials,” says Twarkodevi, who has been teaching the art to other women. “We are able to save more because hardly any investment is required in this venture.”

Training programme

Umavati, from the same SHG, says that while they used to make a few traditional items from pine needles, the training helped them diversify the range of products and make them more attractive by using colourful threads to weave different designs on the products. The forest department, in fact, has taken its initiative forward after the successful experiment with the Swan Mahunag SHG. A 17-day training programme was then organised for women at Patherbi village in the Richie gram panchayat that comes under the Seri forest range. Women from almost every family took part in the training and became members of the Village Forest Development Committee. Less than six months after the training, they are proficient in the art and make a wide range of innovative products.

 

It is a long process, right from the collection of pine needles to giving final touches to the product they have created, explains Kanta of Patherbi village. Only dried-up pine needles are used which fall from the tree after ripening. Giving details of the process, she says the pine needles are collected during May and June before the onset of rains. These are then washed and kept in shampooed water for the night and boiled in the morning by adding salt and glycerine to give them a shine. They are dried before using them to make a handcrafted item.

It takes time and patience

Isha Sharma, who is pursuing a post-graduate degree in political science privately, shows off her pencil box crafted with pine needles. “Why not learn an art which can later become a source of income for me,” she poses.

Though the occupation does not involve much of an investment as the women collect the pine needles from the forest, it needs time, concentration and patience to create products. Sparing time from their busy daily schedule that involves working in fields, taking care of cattle, carrying fodder from the forests apart from household chores is not easy, say these hardworking hill women.

Savitridevi says it takes 3-4 days to prepare one bag because they work on these products only in their free time. Even as they perfect their art, they feel once their products start selling in bulk, they can spend more time on them. For now, they are meeting individual demands. Most women in Patherbi feel if the art helps them to earn money the family members would not mind supporting them in their venture.

“We will give more time once we know that these can fetch good prices.”

What these women need today is greater exposure and an initial hand-holding for marketing their products. Nanak Chand, president of the Village Forest Development Committee, says they are indeed planning an exposure visit soon. Meanwhile, the women seem keen to earn additional income so that they don’t have to depend on their family or husband for money. Twarkodevi, who has been successful in her venture, says that initially the men folk opposed them. Now with money flowing into the family income, they offer to lend help.

Although villagers with forest rights get timber, fodder and make money from collecting guchhis (morchella esculenta) and other herbs from the forests, Sharma feels that much more is needed to be done to make the people feel a sense of ‘oneness with the forest’.

With increasing incidents of forest fires and illicit felling of trees, the forest department has realised that the involvement of the community is essential to check these activities as it does not have enough staff to cover vast areas that come under its jurisdiction.

“This was one initiative we thought could give women economic empowerment on the one hand, and get their active involvement to work towards protecting and conserving forests,” says Upasana Patial, chief conservator, Mandi Forest Circle.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi)

Published on November 16, 2019

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