Shital pati (a kind of cooling floor-mat) has created an alternative livelihood in the remote haor areas of Jamalganj and made many villagers self-reliant, reports UNB.
The embattled villagers, who live surrounded by water and cut off from rest of the country, are making mats of different types using canes and murta plants.
They have been doing this for ages, especially during the six months when cultivable land goes under water, but now, with proper training, they look forward to making a sustainable livelihood out of it.
Almost every family in the villages of Sonapur, Kalipur, Chanpur, Kadamtoli, Durgapur and Ramesharpur in Jamalganj is involved in this profession.
Sources said, due to scarcity of cultivable land, most haor residents have to search for alternative means of livelihood.
During the six months when land remains under water, starting from Baishakh, villagers have to depend on fishing and mat production.
However, lack of funds and adequate mat producing skills are two of the common hindrances that stand in their way.
Urmila Rani Dutta, who lives in Chanpur, said mat making is the only means of their livelihood.
There are two types of shital pati, she said, including the normal one and the Jamdani one.
It takes 5 days to make a normal mat, 8-9 days to make a Jamdani mat, and about 25 days to make an embroidered one.
Each normal mat is sold at Tk500, Jamdani at Tk700 and Nakshi (embroidered) at Tk2,000-2,500, she added.
But smooth production is being hampered due to scarcity of murta plants, a necessary component of mat, which villagers have to procure from Mongalkat Bazar of Sunamganj and different places of Sylhet.
It takes about three years for a murta plant to grow fully.
But one bigger problem is the lack of training on mat production. Several initiatives have been taken in recent times to turn villagers into skilled craftsmen.
“On Line Media Centre,” a local organisation, arranged a two-day workshop at the Chanpur village recently.
Jamalganj Sadar Union Parishad organised a 15-day workshop in which training was provided on making embroideries on various types of mats.
There is an association of mat makers called Durgapur Shapla Samity, which is also working to train villagers in necessary skills.
However, no government initiative has been taken yet to provide training to the villagers or help them create alternative livelihoods.
Dhirendra Chadra Kar, a haor resident, said the haor areas need increased attention from the government as they have to live “on the frontline of disaster.”
Mat making can open up a window of opportunity for them, he said, as “one does not need a big investment to start the business.”
“With proper training and support from the government, they can earn a lot of money,” he added.
Sources said, although Jamalganj is famous for shital pati, the industry is not getting any sort of patronisation from any quarters.
In 2006, the government undertook a programme called ‘One-district one-product’ to increase the volume of exports. Shital pati from Jamalganj had a room in the export basket.
But there were no subsequent measures to boost the industry. Mat entrepreneurs do not even know that there is a scope for exhibition of shital pati in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country.
Jamalganj Sadar Union Parisahd Chairman, Foizur Alam Mohan said the government can arrange training for mat makers through Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industry (BSIC).
BSIC provides training in different trades and commerce related activities, but not shital pati, he said.