Dhubri is called the “Land of Rivers” as it is covered three sides by rivers. Dhubri was an important commercial centre and had a busy river port particularly for jute and amongst other resources, jute is one resource which is available in abundance and the jute craft industry has evolved as an important economic activity in the district. A large number of artisans got involved in making different items in jute and this led to the development of a natural jute cluster.
Today there are around 3000 artisans who are earning their livelihood by selling various jute based handicrafts items. Realising the potential jute based handicraft items, a jute cluster was adopted by IIE at Bogulamari in Dhubri district of Assam. Bagulamari is located on the bank of the river Brahmaputra and is around at a 1.5 KM distance from the district head-quarter of Dhubri town. There are around 400 artisans involved in jute based activities.
The people of Dhubri have been producing and using various jute based handicraft item from times immemorial. Initially they used jute for their household activities only and it was not made for commercial purpose. It was Md. Mamtaz Ali of Chalakura, a place near Bagulamari who for the first time sold jute commercially. He made “sikas” with jute rope and then sold it to the Dhubri market. The response of the customer was very good and he got an order of making 35 ‘sika’. In 1985 Madhab Ali, brother of Mamtaz Ali participated in a local exhibition and after this initiative some other people from the area also started doing the same thing. This is how the cluster began. This process got further momentum when Nur Bano Begum, a trained artisan from that area and now the president of Jagaran Mahila Association guided the people who were eager to come for this business in various ways like training up the artisans, instilling the spirit of team work among them and motivating them to take up joint effort to make their business a successful venture. She started with Bagulamari and later on the trained people spread in the nearby places. This way the cluster got enlarged.
IIE as an Implementing Agency initially conducted diagnostic study and made a SWOT analysis. This analysis helped in drawing up an action plan for soft intervention in the cluster. Apart from creating awareness amongst the artisans to work in a group and to work on designs the intervention initially addressed the following problems:
- The biggest challenge was that there was hardly any coordination among the cluster artisans and that made it difficult to mobilize the artisans. They were not aware about group activities and also they were not aware about the scope of getting benefits from different departments by forming strong groups.
- Skepticism towards any outside agency was hampering them from availing any benefit from different departments and initially trust building itself was a major challenge.
- The biggest challenge was that there was hardly any awareness amongst the cluster artisans about training on skill development. They were also unaware about innovation in product design, product line expansion etc. They had hardly any exposure to new and diversified products and were totally cut off from the outside world.
- There were strong middlemen groups and those groups totally dominated the artisans by procuring products from them.
- Inspite of having the necessary skills, the economic condition of the artisan was very bad as they were completely at the mercy of the middlemen. Banks and financial institutions did not consider artisans worth financing because the artisans were unaware of opening bank accounts and maintaining books of accounts..
- They were having neither proper working place for carrying out the entire activity nor they had any separate store room for their finished products. They were using their living space for this purpose.
These challenges were so pervasive that the opportunities in the cluster in terms of availability of skill and resources were difficult to be counted on. Moreover, co-ordination was also lacking amongst the artisans and that hampered the full growth of the jute activity in the cluster. To address the challenges faced by the cluster in the initial stage itself an intervention strategy was chalked out covering four broad areas namely social capacity building, skill up gradation, product development and marketing and publicity. Besides these, another important aspect of intervention strategy was to focus on design and colour improvement of the jute products. In order to achieve these activities and to coordinate with the artisans the Implementing Agency appointed one Network Development Agent (NDA). The NDA not only worked at the grass root but was also responsible for networking with the related departments for bringing convergence into the clusters.
At the initial stage several awareness camps were organized and through these camps, the cluster artisans were made aware about the need for a cluster approach, benefits of group activities and prospects of jute industry within the cluster. These awareness camps actually brought the changes and within a very short time, 22 Self Help Groups (SHGs) were formed and they had opened their bank accounts in Assam Grameen Vikash Bank (AGVB), Dhubri. Training on Credit Linkage were conducted for cluster artisans by the AGVB in association with NABARD. Once AGVB got involved in conducting training on credit linkages, it gave the confidence to the cluster artisans.
Ten (10) SHGs were selected by District Rural Development Agency, Dhubri to be covered under the SGSY scheme under which they were provided handholding support to carry out the jute related activity. DRDA also allowed the artisans to use the shed constructed by the department within the village for undertaking various training programmes and also for other cluster related activities. Through the office of DC (Handicrafts) artisan cards have been provided to the artisans of the cluster. This gave them a sense of identity and they also kept getting opportunities to participate in exhibitions and fairs.
Design Intervention and Product Diversification
The main advantage of the cluster was the availability of raw materials and the basic skills of making jute based handicraft products. This advantage itself often became a disadvantage as everyone in the village were making similar products. Regularly marketing agents would visit the cluster and buy products from the artisans at a very low rate. The artisans who had no concept of costing gave away the products and never calculated the labour cost while fixing the final price.
Keeping the skill level of the artisans in mind, all design interventions initially focused on making few selected type of jute products. A decision was taken that the cluster would focus on developing expertise in producing four types of products:
- Jute Jewelery
- Sandals and shoes
- File covers / Jute bags using laminated sheets.
- Decorative items like lamp shades, pen stand, bottle holder etc. by using cane / bamboo or water hyacinth.
Accordingly designers were engaged and different training programmes were conducted for the artisans. These products were test marketed in various exhibitions and buyer seller meets and the artisans got a very good response. They started realizing that with same effort they could increase their earnings by concentrating on the new and value added products. A design development workshop and a need assessment study was also organized in the cluster with the support of designers from NID under the Design Clinic Scheme of the Ministry of MSME. A number of pertinent issues related to improving quality and technology were highlighted by the designers. Based on the feedback received, need based skill development programmes under the ESDP of the Ministry of MSME was organized in the cluster. These programmes helped in further up-skilling of a large number of artisans. Entrepreneurship input was also given during the programme to support the household units to graduate into micro enterprises.
To get a better understanding on the positive results that can be achieved by adopting a cluster approach, a few selected representatives from the cluster were taken for an exposure visit to Amtali Jute Mill Play Centre at Agartala Jute Cluster. There the artisans got an opportunity to see different types of bags and other jute products manufactured by the artisans. They also saw industrial machines and observed different methods and techniques which were used for making different diversified products. They understood that with the help of industrial machines they could generate more diversified products. The artisans from Bogulamari interacted with the artisans of Tripura and besides mutual understanding; they were encouraged a lot by the way the artisans from Tripura were making a meaningful livelihood out of jute activities.
To give a meaning to their new learning and enthusiasm, with the help of gap funding received from North Eastern Council (NEC) for the cluster, 6 stiching machines were procured for the cluster. Training programmes were conducted on stiching and with the introduction of these machines, the cluster gradually diversified into bag and file making.
A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) was formed in the cluster with the artisans as major stakeholders, but since the cluster primarily comprises of household units the running of a CFC on a commercially sustainable basis remains a distant dream. Moreover being on the banks of river Brahmaputra there is a tremendous erosion of land and there is hardly availability of non-encumbered land in the cluster. The artisans live in a very congested area and often they have problems in construction of a proper workshed and storage of raw materials and finished goods.
Few household units which have availed credit and are in the process of graduating to micro enterprises have become an inspiration for others. The cluster which is primarily minority and women dominated has in the last few years seen increase in 30% income of the artisans through selling of value added and diversified products and this has encouraged youths of the next generation to look at jute based entrepreneurship as a career option. Moreover the domination of market agents who used to fleece the artisans has reduced to a great extent. The product line has been streamlined, the artisans have knowledge about market needs, there is hope about an ever better future and a readiness to change.
Case Studies of Bogulamari Jute Cluster
Saheba Khatun belongs to a very poor family. The picture of her poverty ridden family was always in her mind and she was constantly on a lookout for an opportunity to increase the family income through better livelihood option. Although she and her sister could not continue their studies due to lack of funds yet she was determined to get her brother educated. She was in dire need of a helping hand and it was then that she heard about a Jute Craft Training to be organized in their locality. It raised new hopes for her and she believed that getting trained in making jute products which was, until then only a hobby would help in transforming her life. She eagerly participated in the training programmes but she realized that the important element of providing handholding support needed beyond the training period was not incorporated in any of those trainings. Thus, inspite of being trained, Saheba was not able to earn her livelihood.
In 2009, IIE launched the cluster development programme in her village. For Saheba, the cluster development programme was the solution to her problems. She along with her co artisans eagerly participated in all the cluster activities including the skill development programme on jute bag stitching. She is an active member of a SHG named Mayuri SHG and her group got loan from Assam Grameen Vikash Bank under DRDA. The first loan was of Rs. 10,000 with no subsidy and the second and third time loan was of Rs. 25,000 with a subsidy of Rs 10,000 and Rs 2 lakh with a subsidy of Rs 1 lakh respectively. With the loan she bought a jute stitching machine. Her first exposure to the direct market was through participation in trade fairs and exhibitions and she was able to generate her first few orders for jute products. Right from the first day she worked hard to complete her orders on time and her timely and quality product delivery to customers earned her many repeat orders and her business started rolling. Now Saheba is engaged full time in her jute handicraft business, making different products as per consumers’ requirement. Her sister in law is also helping her out in these activities. To run the jute activities smoothly, she has also availed a micro credit assistance of Rs 10,000/- from Bandhan, an MFI. Saheba is now earning around Rs 7000/- per month from this business. She is working hard to earn more so that she can take the responsibility of her younger brother.
Ms. Shahiba’s story once again underscores that to be successful in life, one need not be born with a silver spoon in mouth. All one requires is hardwork and a strong determination.
Nur Banu Begum
When we talk about Bogulamari Jute Cluster, Ms. Nur Banu Begum is one of the most important person in this cluster. Born in 1964, Nur Banu is the fifth child of Late. Japu Sk.
Nur Banu Begum belongs to a family where everyone is engaged in a job. Since she had completed her Higher Secondary, Nurbanu also opted for a job, but she always wanted to do something on her own. She did her research on various self employment options available within Dhubri and the jute activities caught her interest. She actively participated in different jute related training programmes and afterwards took part in the different fairs with her own jute products. She was overwhelmed by the response towards eco-friendly jute products. She learnt that many people as well as the big business houses are now opting for eco-friendly products for their daily use. The light weight user friendly jute products are largely in demand. She also discovered that there existed scope for using jute as mixed media for items like cushion covers fabrics for fashion clothing and realized that as an artisan, one would have to keep in mind the target customer for which the items are made. Traditional items have a separate market and jute diversified items are finding its way to a different high end customer segment. She shared these experienceswith everyone in the cluster so as to motivate them towards making Jute products and becoming self dependent through this activity. She has participated different exhibitions in Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Guwahati and now Nurbanu is a role model for the educated unemployed youth of the locality to look for a meaningful livelihood. With her own effort she is now empanel designer/master trainer of National Jute Board (NJB). Besides making traditional jute items, she is also involved in jute bag stitching, creating jute products blended with other things like water hyacinth , sitalpati etc. Understanding the scope of value added and diversified products, Nur Nahar feels that there is great need for organizing skill development programmes on Jute carpet weaving etc.
In the year 2009, she got in touch with IIE, when IIE started the intervention process on cluster development. In the intervention process she could learn various diversified designs and new techniques of jute crafts and was a great exposure for her.
She along with many artisans is today confident that there is a market for varied jute products but they will have to stick to making quality products. As contribution to family income is not a necessity for her, she wants to help out the unemployed girls to be self independent with the jute activities. In the year 1997 for the first time she had applied for a loan under PMRY scheme of DICC and got a loan of Rs. 1 lakh from United Bank, Dhubri Branch. That loan was really a great help to her as she had invested the amount in development Jute products. She is also a part of a SHG named Surya SHG containing ten members. Her group was also availed loan for two times from Assam Gramin Bikash Bank, Dhuri. First time the loan amount was Rs. 25,000 with a subsidy of Rs. 10,000 and second time the loan amount was Rs. 2,00,000 with a subsidy of Rs. 1,00,000. Her hard work and dedication to work has helped her to earn a monthly income of around Rs. 10,000 to 12,000. She also got various orders from different buyers specially for hats and file covers.
Her ideas and plans are very clear in her mind and Ms. Nurbanu owes this clarity to various exposures that she has received through training programme and the cluster intervention process is a great help for her to focus on her path of jute craft. She believes that that only absolute involvement and commitment could help her achieving the best.
Rashida Begum belongs to an economically deprived family. It has been seven long years since her marriage but it has brought to her only untold sufferings. Her husband was addicted to drugs and which cost him his life in the year 2007. After that she lived with her family and later remarried to a person who has been a strong pillar of support for her. When she was at her parents place she kept herself engrossed only in household chores. But her family members were constantly trying to divert her attention towards some other work so that she gets little time to remember her past, Rashida however was least interested in anything they suggested. Her elder sister was insisted that she start working on making jute products which was her hobby before her marriage. Pre marriage she used to make table mats, sika, dolls etc from jute. Her sister was an active member of one of the SHGs that was actively participating in all the cluster development activities initiated in the Bogulamari Jute Craft Cluster. A jute related training programme was also being organized and Ms. Rashida was forced by her sister to participate as a member of their SHG. Therefore, she participated in the Entrepreneurship and Skill Development Programme on diversified jute products and stitching. Gradually she began to develop an interest in all the new information related to jute that she could learn in the training programme. She learnt to make jewelleries from Jute items using mixed media along with jute like flower vase, cushion covers etc. Whatever she learnt in the training programme, she used to practice at her home and made each of the items for the use at her home. Her interest and skills caught the attention of the master trainer of the ESDP and he engaged her in all the ESDPs as an assistant master trainer. Her products got good response in the markets. Now, whenever any order comes to the cluster, Rashida comes forward to take it up immediately. On an average she is earning around Rs 7000/- per month from jute related activities. Besides, whenever any ESDP is organized in the cluster, she is called as an assistant trainer. Now Rashida does not lament over whatever had happened to her in the past and is confident that she would be able to make a meaningful living out of these jute craft related activities. She has purchased stitching machine when she got handholding support from DRDA. Now she is confident enough and also get large orders of jute bags outside of the states.