Women in Gaibandha turning menace into money
Around 300 women in Modonerpara village of Gaibandha's sadar upazila have been using water hyacinths from a nearby water-body to craft flower vases for the past month.
And now, Eco Bangla Jute Ltd, a handicraft manufacturer and exporter, is all set to ship 30,000 of these vases to the US and Denmark.
This is the first time Bangladesh has received such a large export order for flower vases made from water hyacinth, which is traditionally considered a major environmental concern as it quickly forms dense mats that obstruct waterways.
"We will start our shipments next month," said Mohammad Sabuj, founding director of Eco Bangla Jute. The total shipment is worth about $3 lakh.
The company, which previously had operations in garments before shifting to handicrafts in 2017, collects water hyacinths from water bodies in Dhaka, Manikganj and Rangpur for processing in Gaibandha.
When asked why they chose to make these vases in Gaibandha, Sabuj pointed out that most handicraft companies are building their factories in places where cheap labour is readily available.
The demand for handicrafts made from natural fibres continues to rise in the global markets. Most European countries currently source these types of products from Vietnam and Cambodia.
Eco Bangla exports more than 300 types of handicraft products to 15 to 16 international destinations. It ships products worth $0.5 million in a quarter.
The company has also received orders for products made from raw materials that are not available in the country.
For example, it once received an order for belly baskets made from a certain type of seaweed, forcing the company to import the material from Vietnam to retain the buyer.
The Department of Agricultural Extension could help in this regard by showing farmers how to grow certain natural fibres that are currently unavailable in Bangladesh as it would facilitate the export of local handicrafts.
"We have already taken steps to grow different varieties of seaweed in the country," Sabuj added.
During a visit to Modonerpara village earlier last month, it was found that a number of women were using an iron frame to make flower vases with water hyacinths at home.
Eco Bangla Jute placed its order for 30,000 flower vases with Subhash Chandra Bormon, a veteran craftsman with 10 years of experience in the trade.
Officials of Eco Bangla taught Bormon how to make the vases from water hyacinths, and he went on to teach the women of his village.
"More than 300 women from this and the adjacent villages now work for me, earning about Tk 4,000 to Tk 8,000 per month," he said.
Bormon's wife Srimati Kolpana said that many women who sit idle at home are keen to join hands in the trade.
"However, due to a shortage of water hyacinths and iron frames, only 300 women are currently employed by the industry," she added.
Shila Akter, a ninth-grader in a local school, said she could make five to six vases per day to earn about Tk 120.
"As our school is closed amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, several female students took the opportunity to learn this trade," she said.
Similarly, Chamely Rani is able to complete her household chores while working for Bormon.
"I can make three to five vases a day from home to earn Tk 100 for my family," she said.
Samsun Nahar, an eighth-grader, earns between Tk 100 and Tk 150 per day by crafting flower vases. "I can buy my school dresses when it reopens," she said.