E. Pyranga Eri Cluster, Boko, Assam

The climatic condition prevailing in the entire North Eastern Region (NER) is suitable for commercial exploitation of all four varieties of silk i.e., Mulberry Silk, Tasar Silk, Muga Silk & Eri Silk. Specially Assam has a favorable agro-climatic conditions for healthy growth and development of the Eri Silk. The tradition of Eri rearing, spinning and weaving was prevalent in the south Kamrup area since time immemorial. However, most of the people had either abandoned or were in the threshold of giving up the tradition due to lack of institutional support and ignorance about its potentialities.

With the realization of the need to commercially revive and explore the huge potential of Eri silk and to achieve socio-economic upliftment of the weavers and rearers engaged in Eri activities, the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) proposed a cluster on Eri Silk in Pyranga village of Boko area of Assam. Once the cluster was approved, IIE became the agency for implementation of soft intervention in this cluster which falls in the South Kamrup district of Assam and is at a distance of 80 kms from Guwahati. The cluster was formally adopted for intervention in July 2009 covering 200 artisans from two villages namely Pub Pyranga and Pachim Pyranga dominated by Rabha and Muslim community respectively.  Although eri rearing, spinning and weaving was a part of their tradition, however they were gradually giving up the tradition due to lack of institutional support and ignorance about its potentialities.

The “Rabha” community had expertise in Eri rearing and the “Muslim” community had expertise in Eri spinning and weaving. Although they had the knowledge    of weaving, they were primarily weaving for their personal consumption and in a limited way catered to the local market. That too was done through middlemen and the only product that they used to sell was Eri Bor Kapur (the gents’ shawl) traditionally very popular in the Assamese society.

The diagnostic study of the cluster revealed that the area had the great potential to be turned into a hub for Eri silk.  The villagers in the cluster were not aware about the emerging Eri market both within and outside the state. They were not capacitated enough to raise their productivity and they had never tried working on group basis to go in for organized Eri activity as well as achieve the economies of scale. Their exposure was almost nil and hence there was complete lack of commercialization.

Initial challenges

  • The biggest challenge was that there was hardly any awareness amongst the cluster artisans.
  • Skepticism towards any outside agency was hampering them from availing any benefit from different departments. Initially trust building was itself a major challenge.
  • Product line was limited. There was lack of consistency in  the quality of the products and the designs could not keep pace with the prevailing market trend. Moreover on motif and texture front too, there were deficiencies. Artisans were not skilled enough to go in for faster mode of production.
  • The challenge was also to up scale the activities, to make people realize that if they do not limit their activities only to rearing and spinning but take up weaving too, they would be benefitted.
  • Except for two established SHG’s. there was absence of any group activity. Group mobilisation was the major challenge..

The problems and challenges were no doubt daunting, but a lot of opportunities were also visible. With the determination to convert the tradition into a viable commercial activity a well planned intervention strategy was adopted.

The way out

To address the challenges faced by the cluster, an intervention plan had to be framed for an overall socio-economic upliftment of the cluster. After detailed discussion and deliberation with the experts from various domains, a comprehensive action plan was drawn for a need based intervention in the cluster. Accordingly a vision was envisaged for the cluster.

“Transform Pyranga to a unique Eri silk hub with better and diversified products to create a niche market –national and international

In order to achieve the above envisaged vision, four broad areas of interventions were identified as major thrust areas covering social capacity building, skill up gradation, product development and marketing and publicity. This also entailed developing convergence with different government departments and agencies. The following were some of the areas taken up for implementation.

Efforts at trust building

Getting the trust of the women artisans was the first major challenge. They were skeptical towards any new intervention proposed by government agencies. They questioned anyone approaching them with new promises; straightforwardly they asked what they had supposed to get out of it. Initially they cited a few examples where they have been deceived of their dues in the past. It was really difficult to answer them, get their confidence and again promise something new.  The realization was that before initiating any activity, making them realize the long term positive effects of the proposed cluster development initiative in their village was itself an arduous task.  Whenever representatives of any government departments/organizations visited the cluster all the villagers looked at them with suspicion. Thus the first major task was changing their negative attitude.  The Network Development agent (NDA) tried to gain the trust through continuous communication and rapport building with the artisans and by making a relentless effort to blend with their culture and their way of looking at things.  These simple yet effective efforts started to show results and the artisans began to interact and open up. The day to day interaction of the NDA with the artisans helped to have an insight into the issues, concerns and problems and most importantly helped win the trust of the artisans. This trust building exercise took time, but it helped a lot in smooth implementation of the cluster activities.

Effective social mobilization started showing results

Artisans in this cluster were not exposed to the outside world. Although the SHG movement was gaining momentum in all the other parts of North East, the villagers in this cluster were completely unaware of it. Taking up any activity on group basis to achieve economic benefit was still a big challenge for them.  They never had any orientation programme to work on group basis, about the management of a SHG and other regulations of an SHG to achieve economic benefit. To carry out different activities on group basis, artisans had to be organized into strong groups that would help them garner benefits from different departments.  Initially only two SHGs were there in the cluster and they were also not active fully.

The experience gained in implementing other clusters, made the formation of SHG’s easier. SHG orientation programmes with the help of the officials Rashtriya Grameen Vikash Nidhi (RGVN) to make these people understand the basics of record keeping took a lot of time.   Their first question to the Director, RGVN was how much subsidy they will be getting. They were more concerned about the subsidy they will be getting rather than how to properly utilize the amount so that they could be benefitted.

The artisans through continuous interaction and motivational exercise were finally organized into groups. Efforts were then made to make them aware about the strengths of joint activities for the economic upliftment of the society and as a means of empowering the women to bring about changes in the social fabric of the cluster. As of date there are 20 SHGs actively working in the cluster. All the group members are now aware about the fundamentals of group management and the competition among the groups is forcing them to become more active and participate in various cluster related activities more actively.

All the groups have come together to form a SHG federation that will be responsible for overall co-ordination of all the SHG activities.  The federation has been registered in the Boko block. The federation is co-ordinating with all the departments that will enable them to bring the maximum benefits for the SHGs.

Training imparted on different lines for skill up gradation

The villagers carried out all the Eri related activities including rearing, spinning and weaving in a traditional way. Artisans had never gone for any professional way to raise their productivity. Since commercialization was absent completely, no effort was made to adapt technology so as to raise the productivity. The poor economic condition also did not allow them to go in for the better options and along with that was the lack of awareness.

Initially, awareness was created about the new developments in the Eri activities, about the advanced Eri practices and gradually different training programmes were organized for skill development, design diversification etc. A group of five artisans were trained on advanced spinning at the Regional Muga Research Centre, Boko of Central Silk Board so as to acquaint them with mechanized spinning process. Now the spinners are mostly into machine spinning that has helped them spin fine quality Eri yarn in much larger quantity in much lesser time. The Entrepreneurship and Skill Development Programme on Handloom (Jacquard) helped artisans learn the new skills on drawby technique, use of jacquard machine, blending of Eri yarn with other silk yarns to go for diversified products and a few other upgraded techniques.

One exposure visit to Nagaland Khadi Cluster Common Facility Centre was an eye opener for the cluster artisans where they interacted with the artisans there in Nagaland, queried on the advantages and disadvantages of using the modern machines, looms etc. This visit boosted their confidence and after the visit, the artisans started getting actively involved in all activities. Coming back from this trip, they shared their experience with the other artisans and encouraged them too to take up the Eri activity commercially.

After the different training programmes, exposure visits and other capacity building initiatives, artisans are now motivated a lot. A few artisans have taken the initiative of converting their household units into registered units. They are co-coordinating with the District Industries and Commerce Centre (DICC) Kamrup for the formal registration of their units.  Others have also shown interest in unit registration, some on group basis and some others individually. 

Experimentation with natural dying:

Artisans today are capable of bringing out 20 different colours of naturally dyed yarn. This became possible after an initiative was taken up in natural dyeing. The demand for naturally dyed Eri product is rising both at National and International market. The unique naturally dyed Eri with the indigenous colours has a wide market. Keeping this in mind, a natural dying workshop was organized for the artisans. The artisans can now make more than 20 colours with the locally available ingredients. They have got a very positive response for these naturally dyed Eri products particularly for the Eri stoles in the local as well as national market.

In the design development training, artisans for the first time tried different products keeping the traditional touch on designs. The artisans are now aware that there will be no limit to market demand if products can cater to the customers’ tastes and preferences A marked difference that one can notice is that the artisans have developed the requisite skills  to make varied products on order basis. Unlike the earlier practices, when they were hesitant to take orders for different handloom products that were new to them, they have now come forward to readily accept them and work on it.

Association with different departments

Approaching different departments on their own was a distant dream for them. They not only lacked confidence to interact with government officials but also had a strong perception that government department only come to their village to cheat them.  The scenario however is completely different today. Whenever any official from these institutions visit the cluster they are warmly welcomed by the artisans and they do not hesitate to interact directly with these officials. Artisans are today getting benefits from organizations like District Rural Development Agency and Rashtriya Grameen Vikash Nidhi (RGVN), Central Silk Board etc.

Eri rearers in the clusters were finding it difficult to collect the Eri host plant leaves. Leaves that they could collect from their own place were not sufficient and moreover they could not go in for large scale plantations in the little available low lying land.  Not a single permanent “Keseru Plant” was there in the village and they were completely ignorant about the systematic plantation of the Eri host plant. They were collecting the same from a nearby village across the river and during rainy season, their task become more difficult.  To address this issue, state Sericulture department was approached. They provided 200 ‘keseru plants’ and four SHGs came forward to take the responsibility of collective plantation as well as rearing. This initiative motivated other rearers also and the production has gone up significantly. Along with increase in production of raw materials, attempts were also made to increase the productivity of the artisans through technology intervention. Each of the 15 SHGs in the cluster was assisted by Central Silk Board, Govt of India under the Catalytic Development Programme especially in the Post Cocoon Stage.  They could get one spinning machine each and loom accessories and this has helped them raise their productivity to a great extent.

All the groups have been covered under the Swarnajayanti Grameen Sworojgar Yojana (SGSY) of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Govt of India. Besides the financial assistance they also got other need based assistance. Initially each new group had received Rs5000/- as one time grant and the older group received Rs10000/- . A group of 40 artisans have received microfinance from Rashtriya Grameen Vikash Nidhi under their Micro Credit Programme. Rashtriya Grameen Vikash Nidhi (RGVN). With the little financial assistance received, the groups could work on the orders they generated from different source. Even though a series of design development training programmes were organized, there were still some issues on design front, on the finishing part, on textures etc.,  that were still to be looked into. Different feedback received from the customers in different fairs/ exhibitions revealed that the artisans in Pyranga were still to improve on these areas. The timely intervention of the experts from NID further became a boon for this cluster. 

Under the Design Clinic Scheme (DCS) of the Ministry of MSME, Govt of India, being implemented by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad the design workshop conducted under the aegis of an empanelled designer of NID addressed some important issues on softening, the texture and maintaining uniformity in the finished products.

MARKETING

With the awareness being created on co-operation and trust building, skills developed and financial linkage provided, the artisans are today in a position to address market needs. They were completely ignorant about the latest market trends, proper market linkage before. So intervention plan was framed to address these issues. Through the design development training programme, the artisans were trained up on developing diversified product line and they were also facilitated in participating in various fairs. Message has spread through the entire cluster that the cluster artisans can sustain with the Eri activities through modernization and enhancing competitiveness. The artisans never took part in any exhibitions/fairs earlier. But equipped with the design development training, a few artisans took part in a number of industrial fairs where they participated with their varied products like Eri stoles, mekhela chadar, kurta piece, wrapper, plain Eri fabric, naturally dyed Eri products etc. Participation in the fairs and melas helped them get the taste of the market directly. The interactions and feedback received in these fairs/exhibitions helped the artisans improve upon their products and also in breaking the fears and apprehensions that they had earlier.

All these efforts started showing results in the cluster gradually. Earlier the artisans were hardly earning anything. Poverty was engulfing them and they were looking for options to support their families. Facilitated by the cluster development programme and then taking up the activity commercially helped the artisans earn, on an average, Rs 4000- Rs 5000 per month. All the SHGs have received financial assisstance and they are planning to build on their own training hall on a combined basis so that different training programmes can be conducted for the SHG members till the CFC comes up. Every artisan has a dream of raising their income level to Rs 10000/-Rs15000/- per month.

On an average, Eri cocoon production in the cluster has increased to 150 kg per month which is being used for further processing through spinning and weaving. Through value addition there has been an increase in the income level of the artisans and this has helped in giving up their earlier practice of either using cocoons as food items or selling the cocoons in the local market at a very less price.

PYRANGA ERI CLUSTER IN NEWS

Challenges still to be tackled

Throughout the intervention, continuous efforts have been made to bring different departments under a common platform so as to achieve effective convergence.  Some successful convergence could be developed during this intervention phase. With the effective convergence developed with departments like District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), Central Silk Board and Rashtriya Gramin Vikash Nidhi (RGVN), the artisans could garner a lot of benefits.

However, to carry forward these initiatives, this cluster will need further assistance in the following areas.

Text Box: Pyranga Eri ClusterThe Eri rearing needs to be further up-scaled. While the household units have become active, there is need for further handholding to enable the house hold units graduate to micro enterprises. The SHG federation of the cluster needs to further strengthened so that the initiative for setting up the Common Facility Centre (CFC) can be taken up and opportunities in the export market can be explored.

To sustain the activities of the cluster, the following support is required.

Ensuring supply chain

A well equipped CFC with the modern looms and accessories updated spinning machines, warping drum and other needed facilities would facilitate the artisans to work on large orders and ensure quality and maintenance of delivering schedules.

Raising the production of Eri cocoons

A systematic large scale rearing of Eri cocoons will ensure regular supply of Eri yarn. A well equipped rearing house can be set up in the cluster and the area where four SHGs have taken up the Eri host plant plantation can be developed. There is need for developing the infrastructure within the area.

Text Box: Pyranga Eri ClusterMarketing

No doubt the artisans have got market access but there is a great need of support in helping them to create their own brand and creating an identity for the products of the cluster. There is need of a marketing outlet, creation of E-portals etc.

From a BPL cluster with no access to electricity in one of the villages this women dominated cluster has no doubt come a long way but there need for further handholding and support to ensuring sustainability.

Some case studies of successful weavers of Pyranga Eri Cluster

Bubbling Enthusiasm

Ms. Pabitra Rabha

One of the major stakeholders and pillar of strength for the Pyranga Eri Cluster is Ms. Pabitra Rabha. It is because of the commitment and zeal of few artisans like Ms. Pabitra Rabha, who right from the initial stage of the cluster intervention participated in every programme and also build support of other weavers in the cluster that impact in the Pyranga cluster could be achieved

Born in 1977 in a small village of Boko, Ms. Pabitra is the eighth child of Late. Bedel Rabha. There were ten children in the family but unlike the other nine, Ms. Pabitra was very responsible and caring towards all the family members. She had to take responsibility for managing her household from a young age as her father died when Pabitra was appearing for her higher secondary exams. She left her studies and got involved in goatery and piggery farming.

From her childhood she was interested in weaving various cotton mekhla chaddar but she was not confident to choose weaving as her career. In the year 2006 she got in touch with Mr. Bijon Rabha a politically strong leader of Rabha Hasong and started to learn different types of weaving through dubi machine. She went through lot of difficulties in the process of learning weaving in dubi loom yet her passion for weaving did not die. After continuous practice of four to five hours a day she was finally confident in her weaving skills and arranged an amount of Rs. 11,000/- by selling her cattle and purchased a dubi loom. In her first commercial inititive, she wove   16 pairs of mekhla chaddar over a period of one year and sold all her products in her locality and earned Rs. 300 to 350 per pair as profit.     

It was in the year 2008 that Ms. Pabitra got in touch with IIE, when IIE started the intervention process on cluster development in her village. Besides attending skill development programmes organized for the cluster, she got an opportunity for the first time to attend an exhibition in Maniram Dewan Trade Centre, Guwahati where she could learn consumer needs and wants and accordingly started developing products keeping the market demand in mind. Again it was in the year 2010 when she along with two other artisans got an opportunity to participate in an exhibition at Shilpagram, Guwahati and it was there that she got in touch with Ms. Dalimi Pegu, an entrepreneur involved in organizing ethnic food festival. When Ms. Pegu saw them wearing all rabha dresses she offered Ms. Pabitra’s group to join in a food festival on a wage basis which was proposed after a month. Pabitra was excited to know about the food festival, as earlier she heard about such kind of festival and was always looking for opportunity to participate. After one month she along with her friend Ms. Mira Rabha participated in the food festival for 3 days and earned an amount of Rs. 300 each per day. It was her first beginning in this new field of business. After that in the year 2011 along with 2 other friend Pabitra independently participated in a food festival and earned around Rs. 9000/- as profit. Her third attempt in this field was a dual activity for her, as this time the food festival was held along with Cluster Conclave organized by IIE. The 10 day long exhibition/conclave and food festival gave her more confidence in both the fields of livelihood.

Her primary interest is in weaving and she got financial assistance of Rs. 28,000 from Central Bank, Boko in the year 2013 and purchased a loom and some raw materials and started to weave on order basis.  In the year 2010 she also availed a loan of Rs. 5000/- from RGVN. At present her monthly income from weaving is around Rs. 5000/- . She is eagerly anticipating the Common Facility Centre to be set up in the Cluster so that the entire society can be benefitted out of it. She has a dream that one day she will have a modern weaving unit of her own and is constantly striving to realize it.

Ms. Pabitra attributes the success to her dedication and hard work believes that the faith in one’s ability and extreme level of confidence are the main qualities needed to be successful in life.

Ms. Fatima Begum

Born in 1974, in a small village in Boko, Ms. Fatima Begum was the youngest child of Mr. Shahanur Ali. She belongs to a weaving family and they have an industry in Bijaynagar, Assam. Though she was involved in weaving from her childhood still her ambition was to be a school teacher and after finishing her higher secondary she tried to fulfill her aim. But due to family problem, she was married off to a businessman, Mr. Zamauddin Ahmed . Her family members especially her husband encouraged her to take up weaving as a career. Now she is a renowned weaver and also a mother of 3 children.

Besides other benefits she got through the cluster interventions made in the  Pyranga Eri Cluster, she immensely benefitted from the dyeing training conducted by IIE. She learnt how to do chemical and natural dyeing and now she dyes her own yarn for weaving which has been immensely beneficial for her. She now earns around Rs. 5,000/- per month by working on a part time basis. She wants to get involved in weaving on a full time basis but as a mother she has to take care of her children and therefore can weave only during her free time. She also believes that if she could use her full time she could easily earn a sum of Rs.13,000/- per month.

Today she not only marketed her products to national market but through her family support she marketed her products to Nepal as well as Bhutan. To further expand her business, she has applied for a loan and is eagerly looking to expand her business. Through superior quality of her weaves and finish, Fatema has created a name for herself and has been able to target niche market segment. She was one of the few artisan who ventured into making naturally dyed eri sarees.

Ms. Fatima’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.

Ms. Shahida Bibi

Born in 1978 in a small village in Boko, Ms. Shahida Bibi is the youngest child of Mr. S. Ahmed. She got married to a businessman who supported her a lot in every step of her life. From her childhood she knew cotton rearing and also could weave ‘Eri Borkapur’. After IIE’s intervention only, she started taking weaving as her career.

            Once she started her career in weaving, she spent most of her time on weaving. Through her weaving activities, she could contribute to her family income and since she carries out her work from her own house, she faces no problem in looking after her three children. She belongs to a joint family and her family support and encouragement have been her greatest source of inspiration and has given her the confidence of expanding her business.  Ms. Shahida is waiting for an opportunity to go beyond the local market and reach out to the national market.

She got in touch with IIE through various training programmes conducted by IIE. She mentions that two training programmes – one on dyeing yarn and the other on financial literacy immensely benefitted her. With the help of IIE and Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) she applied for a loan in SBI. Once the loan was sanctioned, she was able to build up stock and expand her product line by weaving different varieties of Eri Saree, Mekhela Chaddar, Shirt pieces and Eri Stoles. At present, her monthly income is around Rs.12,000  and she is confident of expanding her business and enhancing her income. She attributes her success and confidence to the various types of exposures she got through the interventions carried out in the cluster.

Her ideas and plans are very clear in her mind and Ms. Shahida owes this clarity of thought to the orientation she got through the cluster programme. She feels that had she not attended the Cluster programme, she would not have blossomed at all!

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