Roping in agave fibre

alternative livelihood Residents of Kurudi Lambani Tanda arranging agave leaves; feeding the leaves to machines.photos by author

A journey from Challakere to Chitradurga offers a special sight at Kurudi Lambani Tanda (Lambani community settlement). A unique smell attracts the attention of onlookers towards the settlement. Those who step that side will have a glimpse of a thread across which seemingly green colour materials are hung.

If the onlookers approach the thread presuming the materials to be cloths, they will be surprised for they realise that they are a different type of fibre. There are six units extracting fine bast fibre from agave leaves in Kurudi Lambani Tanda. 

The settlement houses about 150 families of which around 15 are engaged in extracting fine bast fibre. Each unit has employed around 25 workers and produces between 100 and 150 kg of fibre every day. Fine fibre is extracted based on the demand. The fibre is extracted for about eight months in a year, Raja Nayaka, owner of a unit, points out.

These units export agave yarns to West Bengal and Maharashtra. One kg yarn is sold between Rs 20 and Rs 25. Around six tonnes of fibre is transported to Kolkata once in two weeks. Workers at the units earn between Rs 250 and Rs 500 based on their nature of work.

There is a demand for ropes to be used as neeluvu (a type of traditional hanging bag hooked on to ceiling to keep eatables so that they remain fresh and safe from cats), and nose ring for the cattle.

“We don’t manufacture these products at the units. In case of demand, the unit owners prepare them at their houses and supply,” Nanjaiaha, a labourer at a unit, says.

Agave normally grows on bunds across fields and wastelands. Sometimes, farmers grow them and sell. Workers cut the leaves and transport them in tractors. Neatly chopped pieces of leaves are fed to the machine which extracts the fibre.

The fibre is kept outside for about four days so that it dries up completely. Later, workers spin it into a strong and coarse thread and prepare the yarns.

Planting and collection of agave leaves can be seen mainly in parts of Chitradurga and Ballari districts, and in places like Challakere, Hiriyur, Imangala, Nayakanahatti, Sanikere and Kalamarahalli. There are also challenges with regard to the availability of raw materials.

“It takes between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 to collect the leaves, transport them and extract the fibre. If the collection centre is far, then the cost goes up,” Raja Nayaka adds.

“We don’t need to pay anybody to cut the leaves, but we need to spend money for the labour,” says Meetya Nayka, who owns a unit. “There are occasions when we have to wait despite spending around Rs 1,200,” he adds. 

Undoubtedly, agave has created employment for farmers who otherwise would have been affected due to scanty rainfall and drought. There is a scope to boost agave plantations to ensure easy availability of raw materials.

Commissioning a small scale industry to produce agave fibre products may result in economic empowerment in the region. It may also help farmers and unemployed youths who find it difficult to make a living due to crop failure and erratic weather patterns. At many exhibitions in the region, products prepared using agave fibre are generally exhibited.

The agave is also a source of manure. The peel that remains after the extraction is considered as a good manure. The juice that spills out while extracting the fibre is said to have medicinal properties. The juice is normally used as a nutrient for grapes, orange and pomegranate saplings as farmers believe that it strengthens the saplings against diseases and improves yield.
 

(Translated by JA)

 

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Roping in agave fibre

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