Silk reelers in Odisha bask in the sunshine of enhanced livelihoods
Adoption of solar-run portable reeling machines has increased the earnings of silk reelers and weavers manifold. Unnati, a solar-powered reeling machine offered by the social enterprise Resham Sutra, costs Rs 35,000. Almost 70% of its beneficiaries are tribal women.
Aishwarya Tripathi 30 Aug 2023 1:25 PM GMT
Kuni Dehuri has been a silk reeler and weaver for over 19 years. Her days are spent taking out threads from cocoons and using them to weave fabric and which she then sells for a living.
Four years ago, her fortunes changed when she switched to a solar-run portable reeling machine. Power outages in her remote tribal village Bhagamunda in Odisha no longer affect her work, and her earnings have jumped up to seven times — from Rs 1,200 per month to Rs 8,000, she said.
Like Kuni, a number of rural women who work as silk reelers have adopted portable reeling machines, which run on solar energy. This allows them to finish reeling at a much faster pace, thus enhancing their incomes.
Resham Sutra, a Delhi-based social enterprise, has been providing solar-based portable reeling machines to these women. Called ‘Unnati’ the machine is compact and costs Rs 35,000.
The organisation provides these machines at 90 per cent subsidy to communities belonging to Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste. Almost 70 per cent of its beneficiaries are tribal women. Resham Sutra is working across 350 villages in 16 states, out of which 20 villages are in Odisha, including Kuni’s village in Kendujhar district.
Before adopting a solar-run portable reeling machine, 35-year-old Kuni had to often watch helplessly as her silk cocoons rotted. She used to labour for hours to boil the golden cocoons of silk to be reeled the very day so that they did not discolour before she converted them into bales of Tussar silk.
But, there were times when there was no electricity for weeks on end and Kuni’s motorised silk reeling machine just sat there idle.
No electricity meant a tremendous livelihood loss for Kuni. On a good day, she could reel 350 grams of silk in eight hours, but on an average, despite the exhausting labour, she could never make more than Rs 1,200 per month.
“Many times the cocoons wouldn’t get reeled on time and looking at the quality, the traders wouldn’t even believe that it’s silk,” Kuni recalled. “But now, I am able to earn up to Rs 8,000 in a month,” she added.
Resham Sutra, with the vision of enabling underprivileged rural artisan communities towards financial independence through sustainable innovations, has provided a 40-watt capacity solar photovoltaic system to the silk reeler.
Kuni’s reeling machines require 15 watts to run and the remaining power can be stored and used even in the absence of sun. It is because of this, that she is able to work even past sunset, increasing her work hours. She works from 6.30 am to 10.30 pm sometimes.
Kuni also regularly trains them in using these new portable machines.
“I have trained about 500 women to use these machines and adopt the new technology,” she told Gaon Connection.
Rebati Dehuri is one of them. Earlier she, along with two other women ran the charkha (spinning wheel) to collectively make Rs 5,000 on a monthly basis. Her share used to be roughly Rs 1,800.
With Kuni’s training, Rebati has learnt the art of producing twisted thread, and is able to work for longer hours due to the solar machine, which helps her earn up to Rs 8,000 per month.
The 30-year-old had been reeling silk for the past seven years but it was only in 2022 that she undertook a six months training led by Kuni. It has spiked her income and increased her confidence. “With my savings, I bought myself a gold nath [nosepin],” said a proud Rebati.
Rebati’s coworker, Madhumati Dehuri has been reeling tussar since 2014. Joining Kuni’s training centre was a turning point in her life. With an increased income, she bought a pedestal fan — the first one in her house in Hundatangiri village, 22 kilometres from the training centre in Bagamunda village.
“People in my village sit outside their huts, on the roadside to combat the heat. The electricity is erratic and many don’t have a fan in their house,” Madhumati told Gaon Connection. “I have got a solar system installed at my house to power the fan,” she added. All this has been possible due to her increased income.
Madhumati now plans to invest in a tailoring business as soon as she saves up enough. She said that she was making Rs 8,000 per month, as compared to a meagre Rs 1,500 earlier.
Traditionally, the rural women used thigh reeling technique, passed down the generations to make yarn out of the cocoon. The technique took a toll on their health, causing back and thigh pain.
Though Kuni didn’t depend on this traditional technique, the motorised silk reeling machine she used was bulky and needed at least three women to run it.
Resham Sutra’s ‘Unnati’ machine is compact and user-friendly. In Odisha, a large part of the machine’s Rs 35,000 cost is borne by the state government’s Directorate of Textile as subsidy to the poor tribal women. Kuni only had to pay Rs 3,500 upfront cost to make Unnati part of her livelihood.
“Seventy per cent of our beneficiaries are tribal women who had no fixed source of income except for what they earned by foraging for forest produce. Earning a constant income improves their social status allowing them to make decisions like providing better education to their children,” Kunal Vaid, CEO, Resham Sutra told Gaon Connection.
“Energy-efficient technologies powered by decentralised renewables can help enhance the incomes and resilience of many of India’s more than 60 million micro-enterprises while fostering climate action,” reads a report titled Decentralised Renewable Energy Technologies for Sustainable Livelihoods. The report was recently released by New Delhi-based the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).
According to the study, decentralised renewable energy livelihood technologies have already impacted more than 566,000 livelihoods across India, with silk reeling machines accounting for 14,000 of them.
Under its Powering Livelihoods programme, CEEW is supporting small solar refrigerators, solar-powered small horticulture processors, solar-powered silk reeling machines, solar-powered cold storage, solar dryers.
Meanwhile, recognising the impact of decentralised rural energy-based livelihood technologies, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India, released a dedicated policy framework titled Framework for Promotion of Decentralised Renewable Energy Livelihood Applications.
The ministry observed that decentralised rural energy-powered livelihood solutions have the potential to reduce and eventually eliminate the reliance of livelihood on diesel, particularly in rural settings, and can supplement the grid supply.