At the start of every month, the women of Mohammadpur village in Uttar Pradesh’s Shravasti district eagerly await the delivery of an unusual product —banana waste, collected from nearby plantations.
“Banana stems and their peels are a source of natural fibre, which we use to prepare intricate handicraft products ranging from jewelry to dolls and trays,” says Tejashwi Pathak, founder of Baudhanchal self-help group (SHG), which has 20 core members and employs another 30 women from the village.
The women work in two groups. One group segregates the waste, operates the banana fibre-extracting machine, dyes the coir and manually ties them to make strings. The other group consists of artisans who make handicraft products from the strings.
“Shravasti is a popular tourist destination because it is believed that Gautam Buddha settled here after attaining enlightenment. I had always felt that there was a huge untapped market for locally manufactured products in this district,” says Pathak, a fashion designer by training.
“So, when I returned home to Mohammadpur during the pandemic and saw most families struggling to sustain themselves, I discussed the idea with some women. In January 2022, we set up the Baudhanchal SHG,” she says.
Next, the women were trained to make products using banana and jute fibres. Initially, the fibres were sourced from factories. In October 2022, the Shravasti Land Conservation Office donated a banana fibre-extracting machine to the group.
“The machine meant we could tie up with nearby banana farmers for agricultural residues. It reduced our production cost and gave us control over the fibre quality,” says Arunima Pandey, head artisan of Baudhanchal SHG.
Shishir Verma, land conservation officer at Shravasti, says banana plantations are common in the region, and after harvest, almost 60 per cent of banana biomass is considered waste. The SHG offers a viable solution to the waste problem.
The group is currently selling its products at government handicraft festivals and through word-of-mouth. “We recently started social media pages and the response has been good. We will soon start selling directly on online shopping platforms,” says Pathak.
Almost 80 per cent of the revenue earned goes to artisans, who are paid according to the number of pieces they produce. On average, each artisan earns Rs 10,000 a month.
The SHG also has a group of six college students for product research and development.
“Usually, 20 per cent of the banana fibre gets wasted during the manufacturing process. The team is researching if it can be used as filling material for cushions. In the past, they have found that winding banana fabric around a metal frame made certain products, such as trays, durable,” says Pathak.
These days, other than innovating products and marketing strategies, Pathak holds training programmes for women who wish to become banana fibre artisans or to earn a living.
Published by Down To Earth on 26 March 2023.
This was first published in the 16-31 March print edition of Down To Earth.