Industree Craft Foundation Managing Director, Neelam Chhiber, addresses officials and businesses from Commonwealth countries on a study visit to a weaving factory in Bengaluru, India, June 2009.
17 February 2010
Proposed network would help countries make use of discarded raw materials and boost income for small-scale artisans
A new ‘global forum’ to share skills and expertise among small-scale natural fibre producers, suppliers and craftspeople could help developing countries better exploit existing raw materials such as coconuts, bananas and water hyacinths, a Commonwealth Secretariat-hosted seminar in London heard last week.
In a call to Commonwealth member governments, Neelam Chhiber, Managing Director of Industree Craft Foundation, a non-profit social enterprise from India, told an audience of diplomats and private and non-government representatives that “vast amounts” of natural fibre materials needlessly go to waste each year.
“You’ve got a whole load of Commonwealth countries which have the raw materials, but do not have access to the technology and skills [to turn them into marketable commodities],” she said, warning that, without a network to share manufacturing techniques, expertise among producers could “just die out”.
Handbags, floor mats and rope
During the two-hour seminar on 10 February 2010 at Marlborough House, London, UK, the idea for a ‘global natural fibre forum’, proposed by both the Industree Craft Foundation and the Commonwealth Secretariat, was outlined to representatives of Commonwealth governments.
Under the plans, the forum would boost understanding in Commonwealth countries of the use of indigenous fibres in the processing and marketing of fashion, household and industrial products like handbags, floor mats and rope.
“We hope that, through the formation of a network, stakeholders will have access to information to utilise raw materials and will be able to share technologies,” explained Watipaso Mkandawire, the Secretariat’s Enterprise Development Adviser.
‘Don’t have to be a rocket scientist’
Mr Mkandawire stated that the Secretariat was consulting with governments, national institutions, natural fibre technology suppliers, marketing outlets and craftspeople on the future shape of the forum.
“We are hoping that we will have a strategy in terms of how this network is going to be developed, who are the key stakeholders, how is it going to operate, who is going to manage it, and how is it going to be financially viable,” he said.
The forum could incorporate a website and internet telephony, videos and social networking where craftspeople could access guidance on how to manufacture natural fibre products, Ms Chhiber added.
“Take water hyacinth,” she said. “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to process water hyacinth – there are six tips. We just need to put these six tips there and people can go and download it.”
In her presentation, Ms Chhiber noted that the processing of coconut husk fibre – used for floor mats, brushes, mattresses and floor tiles – is well established in India, but could be transferred to Commonwealth countries where husks are simply discarded.
Natural fibres are produced from animals or plants. Animal fibres are largely those which cover mammals such as sheep, goats and rabbits, but include also the cocoon of the silk-worm. Vegetable fibres are derived from the stem, leaf or seed of various plants.
She said India, in turn, could learn from the example of Tonga which has a healthy industry in producing hibiscus fabric: “India has a lot of hibiscus. It would have been used once, but the users died out or moved on to cotton or other popular materials.”
José Maurel, Director of Special Advisory Services at the Secretariat, who chaired the seminar, remarked that developing countries were witnessing increased demand for natural fibre. But he pointed out that many Commonwealth countries lack the “foundation” to meet this demand.
“They lack knowledge of the economic value fibres represent, what they can be used for, how they can be processed and marketed,” Mr Maurel said.
Workshops in Bengaluru
The seminar follows a Secretariat-sponsored natural fibre workshop programme in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), India, in June 2009, attended by 45 participants from 20 Commonwealth countries.
The programme was facilitated by the Industree Craft Foundation, a non-profit social enterprise based in Bengaluru, in southern India, which was set up to support livelihoods and market access for rural artisans in India.
It was organised in response to the United Nations General Assembly’s declaration of 2009 as the International Year of Natural Fibres. One of the major outcomes of the Bengaluru programme was the recommendation to establish a ‘global natural fibre forum’.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that worldwide trade in natural fibres is worth about US$30 billion a year. FAO says that some 30 million tonnes of natural fibres are produced annually, with cotton and wool the main products.
The workshop last year was the best of its kind i just wish to be part of it again and i can have training to be able to bring the knowledge to my own people.
As somebody that read botany in my first degree i am very interested in the workshop and i believe it will very important to attend such a workshop . so iam requesting to extend your invitation for this year 2010 workshop thank.
this will be forwarded to maria gabriela punin from ecuador, who has a proyect to make pulp from banana; women, as workers, would make special paper production; technical university of loja backs the effort; my know-how is with it.