Malkha bails out cotton farmers

Malkha bails out cotton farmers

Some 12 years ago, a new cooperative initiative was ushered in and now it is flourishing taking on the growing competition. In 2003, Malkha, a non-profit initiative, decentralised, sustainable, field-to-fabric cotton textile chain, was formed. Malkha is not just another handloom outlet on the block but is collectively owned and managed chain by farmers, ginners,  spinners, dyers and  weavers.

The saga of Malkha began in Hyderabad 25 years ago in the form of “Dastakar Andhra” by Uzramma, now the director of Decentralised Cotton Trust that runs Malkha. “Why make cotton cloth on a machine. It’s foreign to India. The handlooms are made of wood, they are flexible. A machine weaves in large numbers the same kind of cloth, in Malkha the yarn is made without baling and unbaling. It’s unique,” Uzramma says.

The Malkha way of making cotton cloth is different and it has been able to thrive despite the onslaught from the power loom, which is posing a serious threat to small-scale and village-based handloom cloth-making. “We buy  unbaled lint from cotton farmers. That helps to retain elasticity of the fibre,” Uzramma explains. Baling not only damages the cotton fibre, but also severs the links.

Malkha has 100 weavers from Warangal and Karimnagar working on monthly salaries right now. Malkha wants to increase the number to at least by 500 by 2016. The Malkha process explores technology that responds to the needs of farmers and weavers by doing away with wasteful processes in its journey from plant to cloth, is ecologically sensible, and least damaging to the intrinsic properties of cotton.

“The power loom is not legally allowed to replicate 11 varieties of handloom. But such material is available in the market. Such bordered material is cheaper. But our effort is that the primary producer earns more. Ensure that people get to wear real handloom. For instance, APCO sells real handloom and the Co-optex of Tamil Nadu sells a mixture of machine loom,” she observed.

India grows a large number of cotton varieties which are very diverse and we must utilise that diversity to our advantage, she said. “We Indians are very soft; our weavers can’t stand for hours on an assembly line of a power loom. We work in a different kind of  family environment, we have to utilise that to our advantage,” she opined.

The Malkha fabric is lustrous, soft and durable, reflecting its handmade heritage in its slubbed texture. “Malkha is rightly placed in the pyramid of design as on the top are expensive fabric affordable to only the rich and at the bottom with a few who produce in large-scale fake handloom. Malkha is affordable true and unique,” says Sanjay Garg, an eminent designer from Raw Mango Pvt Ltd, a New Delhi-based firm.

“It’s more inclusive and not high-end. Malkha works with least of margin. Uzramma has a philosophy behind Malkha. She sees it from the producer’s point of view,” Sanjay says. Sanjay is one of the famous designers who procures fabric from Malkha for value addition.

Malkha periodically organises exhibitions all over the country to create better market for decentralised cotton products. It receives help from a few like-minded organisations to spread the word. A Hundred Hands of Bangalore which is a non-profit trust helps Malkha. Hundred Hands mission is to help those directly involved in the creation of handmade art, crafts and homemade foods, to earn a fair and sustainable livelihood from their work is for on. 

Like Malkha, the Hundred Hands also believes that working with  hands is an inherent instinct that stems from an ancient urge to express  individuality and create beauty – our ancestors decorated their caves for the joy of it.  Both organisations view handcrafting as a means to slow down, de-stress, find satisfaction in the simple pleasures and lead more creative, contented and fulfilling lives. “We want the weavers to live independently not depending on the doles provided by politicians,” Uzramma added.

India has been a world leader in cotton cloth made on a small scale, in dispersed locations, using locally grown cottons for thousands of years. However, the modern spinning mills and power looms, with their huge scale of operation, have left no scope for diverse and decentralised modes of textile production.

The Malkha fabric presents an alternative to the present situation by helping small-scale yarn-making units replace large-scale spinning mills. It evolves a way in which both farmers and weavers benefit from each other, and in which spinning also becomes a rural occupation. It allows people to work near their homes rather than having to move to slums near a textile hub. At present, there are five Malkha centres in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The success of Malkha is a reflection of people’s feel and appreciation for its unique qualities – the swing, the drape, the ability to breathe, to absorb, to hold colour. Malkha imbibes this quality by handling the delicate cotton fibres gently, by avoiding the force and violence of conventional processing; it retains the springiness of the live fibres all the way into the cloth.

Malkha won’t directly undertake research into the decentralised handloom methodology on its own but associates with the Patriotic People oriented Science and Technology Foundation (PPST) of Anna University, Chennai.  This is an inter-disciplinary centre that is run jointly with the PPST Foundation, Chennai. The centre undertakes research and development activities pertaining to rural industries and technologies.

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