Bamboo clusters of Bengaluru struggle to keep the craft alive

Arts & Culture Bangalore Business COVID-19

Bamboo artisans are fighting the pandemic while still doing their hardest to keep the bamboo art going.

Bangalore: Sitting cross-legged on the road opposite Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS hospital) near VV Puram, 70 year old Mariyamma, a bamboo artisan, gently cuts long bamboo blades and removes long sticks of bamboo with a small knife. She picks up the bamboo after it has been sliced into pieces. She uses it to weave small baskets and make other bamboo crafts. In a given day, she creates at least 10 bamboo baskets.

Many bamboo craft stalls line the entire lane of that avenue. Her family owns stalls next to hers. These artisans buy bamboo from the Bamboo Bazaar and transform it into bamboo items.

 “I’ve been working for the last 15 years. My parents worked in this area as well. We’ve spent our whole lives making bamboo crafts. I charge Rs. 200 for each basket. Belgaum bamboos are used for making bamboo products. We also purchase bamboo from the bamboo bazaar and export it to various businesses. It was difficult for us to stay alive during the lockout. Our business was absolutely shut down,” said Mariyamma.

People in our country use bamboo designs for a variety of uses in their everyday lives. Bamboo trees can be found all over India. Bamboo crafts are practised by many Indian families. Bamboo bazaar in Bangalore, near Shivaji Nagar, is well-known for its bamboo works. These families have relocated to the city from Nanjangud in the Mysore district in search of work. They get bamboo from Belgaum and use it to make various bamboo crafts. 

The bamboo is washed first, and any unnecessary layers are discarded. Baskets, mats, and other crafts are made from bamboo splits. During the weaving process, the artisans blend colourful strips of bamboo to make colourful baskets.

Photo caption: Sidharaju and his brother struggle to earn their daily wage during the pandemic situation.

 “I have been in this industry for four years,” Sidharaju K.K, who owns a small shop next to Mariyama, said. My parents pushed me to pursue this profession because our family needed money. During the lockdown, we didn’t earn anything. We ate food from donation centres or got food from strangers. Dhabas and restaurants are my main sources of high-volume orders. They also pay us well for our supplies because they buy chairs and tables in large quantities.”

With his younger brother Shiva Kumar, a young man in blue shirt, Sidharaju was weaving a window shutter. After leaving school, Shiva Kumar assists his older brother with work.

Sidharaju said,“The base is made up of thick bamboo strips at first. To give the bamboo basket more support, a thin strip of one-inch metal sheet is inserted into the base along with the bamboo. The side walls are woven with small round shaped bamboo strips after the base weaving is done. Weaving is done by interconnecting bamboo strips.”

“We buy threads and other tools for producing bamboo crafts on sale and in packages from K.R market. I pay Rs 150 for one kilogramme of thread,” he added.

Sidharaju sells the window shutter for Rs.3000. He claims that he doesn’t even get back half of the money he spends on bamboo crafts equipment. He barely earns a profit of Rs.100 as a result of it.

The National Bamboo Project has been working tirelessly to revitalise India’s underdeveloped bamboo industry. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved a restructured National Bamboo Mission on April 25, 2018, with the goal of strengthening the marketing of bamboo products, especially handicraft goods.

“We are providing all the assistance that bamboo artisans need through the subsidy scheme,” Sreekanth.K.S, Assisant Commissioner, (NBM) said. State governments have appointed the department responsible for guiding the State Bamboo Mission (SBM), and they are working hard to ensure that the scheme is well implemented in each state. The project used to be solely centered on plantation, but now it is focusing on the production of resources used by artisans as well as the development of state infrastructure in the bamboo sector.”

Bank divisions and district-level bamboo production agencies track each subsidy receiver’s initiative. They also monitor project work within the general framework of the above scheme’s operating guidelines. Strengthening bamboo mandis, bazaars, and haats was listed in NBM’s operational guidelines as a way to improve the bamboo industry.

“They don’t get a special kit. Fifty percent of the Rs. 19 lakh goes to co-selling and 25 percent to furniture manufacturing. For the sale of bamboo items, several states have implemented the mandi scheme. The state governments have not yet revealed the complete number,”said Sreekanth.K.S.

Last year, the Industree Foundation,a non-profit organisation  and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) partnered with the National Bamboo Mission’s Karnataka Chapter to open the Bamboo Research Center in Channapatna, Karnataka. The Industree Foundation is dedicated to helping women artisans create healthy livelihoods.

The “Producer-Owned Women Enterprises” (POWER) project of the Industree Foundation is funded by USAID as part of Ivanka Trump’s White House Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative.

The Channapatna centre will serve as the initiative’s hub, but branches will also be developed in Mysore, Nanjangud, Dandeli, and other parts of the state. The hub will have approximately 100-200 people, while the smaller centres will have approximately 50 women each. Bamboo would be sourced from plantations rather than woods to increase sustainability.

Neju George Abraham, Senior Lead, Strategic Planning and Projects at Industree Crafts Foundation emphasised the importance of investing in empowering indigenous women artisans and said, “The product prototype centre in Channapatna was financed by the POWER project (Producer-Owned Women Enterprises). In three value chains, we work with 6,800 women. India is the world’s second-largest producer of bamboo, but it cannot be exported unless it is certified to be cultivated and processed sustainably. We have a lot of potential for bamboo development, but there isn’t a single hector of fsc (Forest Stewardship Council) certified bamboo in the world. We work with farmers and help them grow bamboo in a specific way as part of the National Bamboo Mission.’’

‘’We assist them in being certified and then transfer the certified bamboo to our women producers in these enterprises. These enterprises are managed by a group of people. Two hundred women come together to start their own factory. We train them and educate them on design concepts, as well as assist them in connecting with technological infrastructure and marketing their products to the global supply chain,’’ he added.

The Bamboo Resource Centre in Channapatna, Karnataka, provides  a livelihoods programme that assists artisans, including Medhars, in creating new products that are well-suited for global and Indian buyers, as well as displaying their diverse bamboo products. With the support of the National Bamboo Mission, over 10 lakh traditional bamboo artisans from the Medhar group in Karnataka have worked with global brands like Ikea.

‘’We are particularly interested in the export aspect because it improves the livelihoods of many Indians. Rajkumar Shrivastava is the state mission director for the National Bamboo Mission. He has taken a proactive approach. We work in Karnataka’s Chikkaballapur and Chamrajnagar districts, which are mostly tribal. We’ll be working with 400 women in the Chamrajnagar district this year. The Medhar people are highly skilled and extremely independent. In Channapatna, we work with the Medhars. The tribal groups receive two to three months of instruction,’’added Mr. Neju George.

In this period of COVID-19, a campaign called Creative Dignity (CD) brought together a diverse group of creative creators, practitioners, and professionals to motivate Indian artisans. The main goal is to provide relief and then concentrate on the artisan’s recovery and rejuvenation. This campaign has not really helped bamboo artisans from Bangalore.

Mariyamma is completely unaware of the initiative. She and her family continue to depend on conventional sources of income.

IKEA has also partnered with the Industree Foundation to create sustainable livelihoods in the innovative manufacturing sector, and Rangsutra, a non-profit organisation dedicated to narrowing the gap between rural artisans and global consumers in order to create sustainable livelihoods and boost India’s rich craft heritage.

Bamboopecker is a Bangalore-based eco-home decor company that sells products made of bamboo. Bamboopecker provides training to potential rural artisans and Indian tribes, creates new manageable clusters, and promotes inter-cluster collaborations through free-to-use designs.

Suman Roddam, director at Bamboopecker said,’’In Bangalore, we have our own artisans. We have 38 artisans who design and manufacture a variety of bamboo items. In addition, I collaborate with 250-300 artisans across India. There were problems before Covid, but they became even worse during Covid.Some artisans who used to train people under the state’s forestry department used to make a lot of money, but Covid has drastically reduced the number of people who come to them for training.’’

‘’The craft must be put out into the world, and the market must accept it. Most corporate gifting companies and restaurants are also struggling. We used to work with them and get bulk orders, which benefited my artisans, but that is no longer the case.Online orders have dropped as well, but if we don’t help our artisans now, they will lose faith in us and lose interest in this industry, which will be much more painful in the future,’’he added.

Many artisans in the unorganised market, such as Mariyamma and Sidharaju, are unaware of these opportunities. Mariyamma is totally cut off from the digital world because she does not own a phone. There are many artists who are unaware of the government’s initiatives. They try to make money by traditional methods and are unsure what to do in the case of a pandemic.

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