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Sabai grass industry reinvents itself

The state government's initiative to add value to sabai grass, a natural fibre abundantly grown in tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district, has finally began to pay dividends.

By SIBDAS KUNDU in Baripada
  • Published 11.04.16
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An artisan during production of sabai grass articles on a loom in Mayurbhanj district.
Telegraph picture

Baripada, April 10: The state government's initiative to add value to sabai grass, a natural fibre abundantly grown in tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district, has finally began to pay dividends.

The usage of the grass, locally known bobei ghasa, was earlier confined mainly to rope-making. But now, its use has diversified into the process of making of various craft items after women workers, mostly belonging to tribal communities, were imparted special training for the purpose.

The grass is mainly grown in Baripada and Kaptipada revenue sub-division of Mayurbhanj and harvested between November and June. The district's annual sabai production is estimated about 20,000 metric tonnes, which fetches about Rs 300 crore.

The finished products, mainly household articles, not only have a market in the district and the state, but at the national level as well. Being environment-friendly, the products have gained a foothold across the country.

The district administration has a showroom - Mayur Shilpa - in Baripada where these products are available. It has also made arrangements to sell these through e-commerce sites, such as Flipkart, Jabong and Amazon.

The Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society (Ormas) first took an initiative to promote the sabai grass industry about 10 years ago. However, tangible progress was not noticed till 2012. The district administration's active role in promoting the industry has seen it gain an upward trajectory.

Mayurbhanj district collector Rajesh Prabhakar Patil said: "After adopting multi-pronged approaches, the women workers have now found an uplift in their status."

"Not only are these women empowered financially and socially with group activities, their products have also gained appreciation from far and wide. The next target is to encourage local tribal communities to grow the grass in barren and waste lands," he said.

After identifying women involved in the activity, the district administration formed clusters with financial support under Odisha Livelihoods Mission. There are nine producer groups with 382 members that are currently promoted in the district.

The industry has given economic freedom to the women. "Earlier, we used to struggle to earn Rs 30 after a day's work. But now, we earn Rs 200-300 a day by making sabai grass craft," said Kalpana Jena, an artisan from Suliapada block and Usha Murmu from Guhaladihi.

The district administration has also decided to engage experts from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, to impart design development training to the artisans. Besides, the State Institute for Development of Arts and Crafts (Sidac) has engaged a designer from Bengal to train 30 artisans and develop 20 new designs. The course will begin on April 11.

"We have also established a production unit at Guhaldihi in Baripada with the financial support from the Horticulture Mission and provided 14 looms (10 at Guhaldihi and four at Badsole) with support from Ormas. A materials bank has also been established at Guhaldihi," said district supply and marketing society chief executive Keshaw Jha.

"We have roped in the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bhubaneswar, for designing and promoting the products. They showcased products made by the artisans at a show in December last year," he said.

Ormas has also conducted marketing tie-ups with organisations, such as Fabindia and Utkalika, for round-the-year marketing of their products.

It has also tied up with the forest department to sell sabai products to tourists who visit the Similipal sanctuary, Jha said.

"The showroom is self-managed by the producer groups involved in the sabai grass activities. They have also appointed a marketing manager to manage the entire business operation," Patil said.