Women venture into new markets using local resources


Empowered by the training she received and the resulting increase in income, Mrs. Bernatheth is determined to expand her production of palmyrah products and speed up the construction of her home

Mrs. Bernatheth is a 53 year old widow with three children living below an income of Rs. 3,200 per month. Although she has received government and donor support for the construction of her house destroyed during the war, she has been unable to complete the remaining construction work due to her low income. At times, she had had to depend on her children dropping out of school to help her earn an income through casual labour.

Highlights

  • The training by one of the leading design educators in South Asia, helped this ground of women engage in palmyrah based production to increase the value of products and reach new market segments. Mrs. Bernatheth in particular was able to nearly double her income.
  • Recognizing the viability of the palmyrah-leaf based enterprises, UNDP supported the development of a production centre through the Women’s Rural Development Society in Naruviliulam South in 2010. The same year the turnover of the centre was Rs. 288,211 for half year during the training period, and in 2011, it increased to Rs. 716,951 mainly due to market linkages established with private sector companies.
  • The group gained recognition, winning a number of regional awards including the ‘Best Entrepreneur Award’ in the Northern Province for using local recourses in development. The award was presented by the Department of Rural Development.

In 2008, Mrs. Bernatheth’s village, Naruvilikulam in Mannar District, was selected by UNDP Transition Recovery Programme (TRP) to implement a livelihood development project, funded by the Government of Japan.  Through a participatory context needs assessment process, the palmyrah sector was identified as a potential sector to generate secure income for many marginalized women using locally available resources whilst staying close to home.

Mrs. Bernatheth was one of the women selected from the Women’s Rural Development Society (WRDS) to receive a 6-month training on palmyrah leaf-based products conducted by the Palmyrah Development Board. She said, “Initially I struggled to learn all the new techniques we were being taught. However, I derived much motivation from other women. I was determined to make a difference in my life. I started to develop an interest in what I was learning and even earned an income of Rs. 2679 in the first two months of the training”.

Mrs. Mathanaseely, the president of the Palmyrah Producer Group, which functions under the overall supervision and management of WRDS, explained that, “Initially 20 women were selected for the training and the numbers later increased to 30 due to the interest among the women to engage in the sector. We were trained by the Palmyrah Development Board for 6 months and were engaged in the production of traditional products.  Thereafter, we received training from the Academy of Design, Colombo, one of the leading design educators in South Asia, on designing and colouring techniques. This helped to increase the value of products and reach new market segments. Soon we started to receive regular orders for laundry bins, bread baskets, table mats, dust bins, trays and carrier baskets for higher prices. The orders for the traditional products such as steaming platters, baskets and cashew box also continued to increase”.

Recognizing the viability of the palmyrah-leaf based enterprises, UNDP supported the development of a production centre through the Women’s Rural Development Society in Naruviliulam South in 2010. The same year the turnover of the centre was Rs. 288,211 for half year during the training period, and in 2011, it increased to Rs. 716,951 mainly due to market linkages established with private sector companies. The president added, “The increase in income contributed to increased confidence of our members and created an interest among another 45 women in the village to also engage in the sector”.

Mrs. Bernatheth’s income also subsequently increased. She said with gained confidence, “I have been earning a steady income of Rs. 5,000-6,000 monthly. I can now make a range of products: vegetable baskets, fish baskets, sewing boxes, dust bins, laundry bins, office bags and steamer called ‘Neethupetty’. Using the additional income, I have partially completed some of the remaining construction work of my house and am supporting my children to complete their education. I am determined to learn more innovative designs in the future in order to increase my income”.

With the support of UNDP, the producer group has participated in exhibitions and trade fairs such as Madhu church festival, Island Craft Exhibition and the Sri Lanka Design Festival 2011 with the aim of improving their networking with buyers and learning about new trends in the market. Mrs. Subajini, the secretary of Plamyrah Producer Group, said, “It was a proud moment for the group when experienced producers of palmyrah by-products in Jaffna came to Mannar District to learn from our centre. Traditional weavers in this village have been engaged in the production of palmyrah leaf based products for many generations. They were mostly unsuccessful due to the lack of demand for traditional products and low prices received. With the support of UNDP, we have adopted innovative ways to increase the income earned from plamyrah leaves and are able to seriously consider this sector for secure income generation”.

The group has won a number of regional awards including the ‘Best Entrepreneur Award’ in the Northern Province for using local recourses in development organized by Department of Rural Development.  Over the next year, the group is planning to increase their membership in the district with the view of expanding their production capacity and is in the process of establishing lucrative linkages with private sector companies for marketing of high-value products. Additionally, the group is seeking technical support from service providers on overcoming the challenges of discolouration of leaves which is a major cause for short supply of raw materials during monsoon season.