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Eri project succour for erosion-hit

Gumi (Kamrup district), Dec. 15: For 42-year-old Dipali Kalita of Palasbari in Kamrup district, going back to eri spinning would bring a new meaning to her life.

For many like Dipali whose livelihood was eri spinning, riverbank erosion in the last two decades has completely ruined their lives. Displaced from their homes owing to largescale riverbank erosion, residents of Palasbari now live in cramped, makeshift houses and work as daily wage labourers on farms.

The livelihood programme funded by the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction and linked to the ADB-financed $120million Assam Integrated Flood and Riverbank Erosion Risk Management Investment Programme, aims to provide livelihood support to the erosion-affected in three Assam districts in different sectors.

Dipali, who used to supply her hand-woven eri-based products to Upper Assam, said the good days of eri craft is now a thing of past. “We were hoping that some day eri spinning will return to its earlier pomp and if this happens, it would be the happiest thing in our lives,” she said. Binu Das, chairman of the Palasbari Municipality Board, said the area would return to its vibrant days, if eri spinning makes a return. Gumi is 95km from Guwahati.

“Under the Japan fund project, we are planning to support silk spinning and weaving in the Palasbari-Gumi area. This is mostly for the landless people (mainly women) and are now living in and around embankments,” Natsuko Totsuko, a water resources specialist in environment, natural resources and agriculture division of the ADB’s South Asia department, told The Telegraph. The project also aims to strengthen the ability of the communities to proactively cope with floods.

She said the project would include support for technical training of spinning and weaving but also for capacity enhancement of marketing aspects, such as improved procurement of cocoons, organising spinners and weavers into self-help groups, establishing linkages with available government services and other activities.

“We expect around 550 people in the Palasbari-Gumi area to benefit from these activities likely to be started in the first half of next year,” Totsuko said.

The beige-coloured eri, often referred as the “poor man’s silk” has taken Assam to a spot in the top three in silk production in the country.

The 1950 earthquake in Assam changed the morphology of the Brahmaputra owing to excessive sediment load and the problem aggravated because of more floods in 1987-88 and a part of Palasbari was eroded and a sizeable population moved to places like Mirza and Bijoynagar further south. The project will provide seed capital to 500 yarn spinners and 50 weavers to assist them in starting a handloom fabric business.

Estimates under the project put the annual production of eri yarn by 500 women working part-time at 13,500kg and at the rate of Rs 900 per kg the value of yarn production would be about Rs 1.2 crore.

Under the plan, the NGO implementing the programme will design and articulate a methodology for transforming this livelihood activity from a project to a business with market linkages.

“In this way, spinners and weavers will continue to produce and sell quality products and maintain contact with markets beyond the project period. Fundamental to this will be building the capacity of producer groups to become like small businesses by understanding economies of scale, cost of production, elements of business finance and the concepts of profit and loss,” a report said.

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