Six girls belonging to the fishing community living near the Deepor Beel Freshwater Lake, Assam, developed a biodegradable and compostable yoga mat out of water hyacinth in February 2021.
The lake is recognised as a Ramsar Site and a distinguished bird wildlife sanctuary. It is a source of livelihood for nine villages of the fishing community over the years. But uncontrolled growth of water hyacinth is a major problem.
Why water hyacinth is a concern?
Water hyacinth (Eicchronia carssipes) is a weed that originated in the Amazon basin in South America. Lady Hastings, wife of India's First British Governor-General, was fascinated by its ornamental beauty and brought them to India.
However, the plant species has become a nuisance in water bodies across India and negatively impacts the aquatic flora and fauna. Governmental authorities have reportedly spent crores of rupees to eradicate the growth of water hyacinth but failed.
Mitali Mainu Das says, "The water hyacinth covered the lake affecting the fishing activity and the livelihood of the fishermen. It further affected the migratory birds, as the dense plantation covering water made the fish in the water body inaccessible." reported The Better India.
Mitali along with other women had been experimenting with the making of sustainable products when they started exploring alternatives with water hyacinth. The outcome of their experiments is these eco-friendly yoga mats.
The production process
The mat is named 'Moorhen Yoga Mat' after Kam Sorai i.e. a Purple moorhen, a resident bird of Deepor Beel Wildlife sanctuary and will soon be introduced to the world market as an indigenous product, according to a report by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government Of India. The women-led innovation received support from Meghalaya-based North East Centre for Training and Research (NECTAR) and Simang Collectives Pvt Ltd, a social enterprise in Guwahati.
Drying and preparation of the water hyacinth before using it for weaving is the most important process. Initially, the water hyacinth's were sundried but due to the heavy rainfall the region received, technological interventions became necessary. 'Solar dryers' were introduced, which reduced the drying time to about 3 days. Rumi Das, Mitali's co-worker, informs The Better India "About 12 kilogram of water hyacinth shrink to 2-3 kilogram. Once they are dried, their stems are used to weave between cotton threads to make these mats." she also mentions that there are no chemicals or artificial colours used. They use natural dyes for colouring. The other co-workers are Mamoni Das, Bhanti Das, Sita Das and Mitali Das.
Rituraj Dewan and Nirmali Baruah, the founders of Simang, are dedicated to working towards creating livelihood by following an approach of economic sustainability. They noted that the traditional ways used by the locals can guarantee both economic gains and sustainability.
Dewan adds, "The women received training in 2019 and 2020. About 15 handlooms were received from Weavers Service Centre, Guwahati, Government of India, for their yoga mat initiative. Our role was limited to assisting in giving technical and technological expertise to the women,"
Dewan informs that over 38 women are now working with these six now. They have other responsibilities such as accounts, designing, colour selection.
By far 700 mats are produced in a month. 100 have been sold to a client in the USA. The production till now could remove 10,000 kilos of water hyacinth from the lake.
Apart from sustainability, the venture has empowered these women in the village. Mitali says "Our venture is unique and has the potential to earn a good income. We wish to involve more women by offering free training and empowering the community."