In its initial stage of working on health, with an agenda of complementing the dairy’s activities, Urmul Trust team did not have any idea that it would soon need to shift its focus from health care to income generation. The conditions created by the drought of 1987 forced them to review their plans and take up income generation activities in a big way. While looking for possible options for supporting the needy poor of the area in this time of distress, they discovered that the old traditional spinning activity had a potential of providing the people a sustainable livelihood. They saw the ‘charkhas’ (spinning wheels), lying idle with most of the poor households. Some time back, this used to be an integral part of the activities and the livelihood portfolio of the household. But now it is not being used, because the produce did not have demand in the market.
Spinning to Weaving : UT decided to make use of these ‘charkhas’ and the skills of the people to use them for the purpose of enhancing the household incomes. They bought the wool from the market of Bikaner, which was and is one of the biggest wool markets in India. They identified the poor families to be involved in the activities. These identified families, however, were not traditional ‘weavers’. They were given the wool to just to spin. The spun wool was collected back, paying the wages for spinning. With the time, lot of spun wool got piled up as there was no immediate taker of this. The team was clueless on what should be done with that. How to dispose it off at reasonable price, so that the money received could be put back to activity-cycle, became an issue. Soon UT realized that it was not easy to dispose this spun wool off at reasonable price. They were forced to look at other possibilities, like weaving. Students from National Institute of Design were invited to discuss the possibilities in this regard. As an outcome of these discussions, the weaving emerged as a strong possibility to be taken up by these people. But since they were not traditional weavers, therefore, they required training for weaving.
Weaving Training in Lunkaransar: The team started searching for the experts/traditional weavers, who could help these local people to learn weaving and produce something that could be marketed at reasonable price. In this process of hunting for experts, they came across some weavers of Phalodi, who used to buy raw materials from local markets and produce ‘pattus’ and other similar products, part of the traditional attire of people of the area, to sell in local market and rural fairs. These expert weavers were also under stress because of low demand of their produce and were looking for better options. When offered good wages by UT, they agreed to come to Lunkaransar and train the locals in weaving.
Emergence of UMBVS, Phalodi: The training process went on well for a couple of years. But with the time, the experts from Phalodi started realizing that they are not getting enough appreciation, space and returns they deserved. Being away from home for so long became another reason for their discomfort. The impact of drought had also subsided for then. Therefore, they decided to go back to their native places. Recognizing their role in training the local people on weaving, UT team offered these trainers its support for having their own weavers’ institution in their block, Phalodi in Jodhpur district. They gladly agreed to go back and organize themselves in such an institution, which later developed into what is now well known as ‘Urmul Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti’ (UMBVS), Phalodi. The UT team supported it financially and with material to start their work and provided guidance as and when required.
Support to Immigrant Craftspersons in Bajju: On the other hand, some similar activities were going on in Bajju block of Bikaner district also. There were a large number of families of highly skilled craftspeople, who had migrated from Pakistan during the ’71 war. The middlemen were exploiting these immigrants. They had no option but to sell their produce to these middlemen from Barmer and Jaisalmer on very low price, who in turn were selling it in high-end market at very high margins. The main feature of their produce was hand-embroidery on cloth. The products were of very high quality, fit to be sold in elite markets and even to be exported. UT organized these families in groups and helped them in marketing of their produce through market linkages it created for them.
Today Rangsutra, Dastkar, Dastkari Haat Samiti, Sampoorn, Sanatkada and Fab India help to promote and market the product of desert craft within the country and across the globe. The livelihood promotion activities of UT started to respond to emergency needs did not stop at income generation programs. Besides continuation of health program, it initiated education program at large scale in several blocks of arid zone districts. As and when got opportunity, it also took up projects on agriculture, animal husbandry, etc., aiming at increasing the income of poor farmers. The experience of income generation programs around crafts gave them the ability of shaping up their activities with a larger perspective of livelihood promotion.
In the series of crafting the livelihood income generation activity also expand in the field of Rural tourism in the beautiful villages of desert.