Shaik Abdul Mujeeb, a social entrepreneur, is making handicrafts from the weed water hyacinth, while at the same time helping women from low income households empower themselves.
On his way to college every day, Shaik Abdul Mujeeb used to notice the overwhelming presence of weed in a pond not aware of the fact that it’s water hyacinth. Later, found many ponds and lakes in his hometown of Tenali and nearby places, which were filled with water hyacinth. Abdul was very much aware of the kind of damage this weed was causing. Lakhs of rupees were wasted each year on cleaning up this weed, with tenders called by the government across the country to weed out the hyacinth.
Abdul, who found out from a friend that water hyacinth could be made into cardboard, embarked on a journey to find out more about this otherwise deadly weed.
The journey of Allika
Abdul started out on a journey to put water hyacinth to a proper use and restore the water bodies at the same time. Water hyacinth is known to clog waterways and greatly diminish the water flow in a region. The weed is known to cause floods by blocking the exit points of the water bodies. It has a life span of around 45 days, after which it starts decaying and contaminates the water.
Abdul noticed that in his home state of Andhra Pradesh, water hyacinth wasn’t put to any use. His journey began by getting some of the plants from a nearby pond, cutting their stems and leaving them to dry in the open sun. Through this, he made a mat.
“During this process of learning, I came to know that there is a similar kind of practice in Assam. I got huge help from Mr. Ashim Kumar Das, the then Asst. General Manger of NEDFi(North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd). With his help, I visited some parts of Assam, and I was impressed by the way they were reusing this weed. I was there for 10 days, and met the artisans, visiting their workplace,” says Abdul.
He came back from Assam and conducted a survey in the 20 districts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where hyacinth was prevalent.
In October, 2014, Abdul established Allika, a social enterprise that provides sustainable livelihoods to low income household women through the production of beautifully hand-crafted lifestyle accessories made out of water hyacinth.
Supporting local livelihoods
Allika, which started off with six women, is currently supporting 70.It trains them in the art of creating handicrafts from water hyacinth. The women are provided with skill training, to create a wide range of handbags, baskets, dining mats, home décor and so on. Allika has aided these women in empowering themselves, both economically and socially.
The water hyacinth that is used for production is procured from ponds, lakes and irrigations canals, by hiring local men. It has also provided an opportunity to generate income for 30 men who help Allika collect the weed from various locations in Andhra Pradesh. The water hyacinth is procured from three villages in near Tenali, Pedravuru, Angalkuduru, Jagadaguntapalem, and some parts of East and West Godavari districts. These people, especially the women, have been able to raise their living standards and provide education to their children through their association with the venture.
Allika currently makes hand bags, coasters, dinning mats, lunchbox/water bottle bags, laptop bags, conference bags and lamp shades. The stem of the plant is used for making the products, which last for a good eight to ten years.
“Though the Indian handicraft industry is considered a cottage industry, it has evolved as one of the country’s major revenue generators over the years. There has been consistent growth of 20 percent over the past few years. We make our sales through our Facebook page and some exhibitions in the cities. We still need to meet the demand, and we are trying to expand and make new products,” says Abdul.
Abdul, who is an electrical engineer by training, was always interested in developing environment-friendly products.
“We want to put the entire plant to use by using its leaves and roots for organic manure. We also have a plan to make sanitary pads from the fiber of water hyacinth,” says Abdul.
The team will scale up to different parts of the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where water hyacinth is available and train women to create sustainable livelihoods.