Members of SHG in Manas sewing masks at facility centres. Handout image

As the Prime Minister calls for being ‘Atmanirbhar’ or self-reliant to tackle the economic crisis of COVID-19 pandemic in India, self help groups (SHGs) near Manas National Park in Assam are already in the practice for around ten years now.

The groups formed by the community people near Manas National Park are stepping ahead expanding their mission of self-reliance by selling locally made masks, food products (lentils, jams, jellies, turmeric powder etc) online.

They plan to sell these products through a facebook page ‘Manah Community Merchandise’ which became operational from Monday.

These self help groups have been facilitated by the Conservation and Livelihood Division of Aaranyak over the years.

Bipul Das, manager of the Livelihood Division at Aaranyak informed, “After the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, the self help groups made masks in large quantities and sold to nearby places.”

“As the demand for mask grew they decided to sell them even online,” he added.

“Abruptly 12 women in two weeks’ time sewed 1200 masks,” he also said.

“We provided 500 of those masks to the authorities of Manas National Park and 200 to the civil sub-divisional office in Manas,” he added.

Das also informed that some of the villagers are facilitated by Aaranyak for organic farming in the Kokilabari and Bhuyanpara regions near Manas.

Bodo Aronai made by the Self Help Groups. Handout image

Ranjit Basumatry, one of the farmers said, “I cultivate red lentils and sell in the local markets. Most of the women in our village also produce organic turmeric powder, fruit jams, jellies and pickles etc. at the Aaranyak’s facility centre in Bhuyanpara.”

But now with abundant production, these farmers are ready to sell them through an online platform and initially through the facebook page.

One of the active self help group Purnima SHG is into making of pork pickle, fish pickle, pomelo juice etc sold to the villages in the vicinity.

Also natural dyeing, weaving, chalk pencil making and lots of other such livelihood activities are operating in these villages under the aegis of the self help group.

Maidangshri Self Help Group along with Aaranyak has been working with these villagers for years and has facilitated the farmers in the villages with hands-on training and infrastructure.

“We have plenty of resources within the village. We have local fruits and an excess of banana and areca nut trees. These have the potential to grow into a full-fledged trade if we get the proper platform and markets,” said Krishna Basumatary, founder of Maidangshri SHG.

Supporting the online sale of products Alaishri Basumatary, Secretary of Purnima SHG said, “The work of natural dyeing of thread and making chalk pencils gives our women immense opportunity to earn a basic livelihood and financial independence. Now, we earn more money to support the education of our children.”

Self Help Group members Exhibiting Organic Turmeric in Trade Fairs in Manas. Handout image

Recently Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal in a review meeting of the Panchayat and Rural Development Department pointed that there are vast opportunities available in the villages for income generation and has asked the department to explore all possible economic opportunities.

The Assam State Rural Livelihood Mission has also appealed at times to the public to buy home-grown products which are organic in nature and can cater the rural economy of the State.

To empower such resourceful livelihood activities and to improve our rural economy it is necessary such activities are promoted and recognised which in turn will drive the idea of ‘Atma-Nirbhar’ Bharat.

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