As summer approaches, de-weeding of farming ponds, drains and canals has cost the Andhra Pradesh state government a pretty penny. But in the villages of Tenali, Pedravuru, Jagadaguntapuram and ones located in the East and West Godavari river basins, a group of women entrepreneurs have helped the situation while making a livelihood for themselves.
The rapid growth of water hyacinth, which is common across Andhra Pradesh, especially in the Western Krishna Delta, is a bane for farmers as it closes the exit points of drains and canals which connect the farming ponds to the agricultural land.
According to data provided by the Tenali Rural Development Agency, in 2013 alone, Rs 38 lakh was spent on de-weeding ponds in 22 villages surrounding Tenali.
However, since November 2014, a group of 70 women in these villages have changed all that. Employed by a startup called Allika, these women, who belong to a self help group, manually pluck out the water hyacinth, which clog the water bodies and turn them into attractive handicrafts.
They set out to the ponds and canals in the villages and harvest water hyacinth. The leaves and the roots are carefully removed and the bark of this weed is dried in the sun and used to weave baskets, hand bags, laptop bags, bottle bags, wallets, place mats and photo frames.
The price of the place mats is Rs 150, while the other bags range between Rs 200 and Rs 950.
"I started weaving handbags in March 2015. One of my friends in the village, Padmavati, told me about this institute, Allika, which would train me and later employ me to make handbags. Since i was a homemaker, I felt that i could earn and also become skilled. It has been almost two years since i joined and now I can weave a basic hand bag in 20 minutes," says 29-year-old Sharadha.
Sharada has become the fastest weaver in the institute and also helps train women who aspire to learn the craft.
Padmavati, who is the oldest craftswoman in Allika, learnt the art from the company's 25-year-old owner, Shaikh Mujeeb.
"I started training in late October 2014, when the company was just launched. Iâ€™ve been plucking out the water hyacinth in my family farm since I was a child, and I was fascinated to hear that it could be turned into pretty items," Padmavati says.
In 2014, Shaikh Mujeeb, a 25-year-old techie who teaches science experiments to students at his private tutorial centre in Hyderabad, was looking for ideas for one of his studentsâ€™ projects.
"At the time, I had returned to Pedravuru to visit my ancestral home. My childhood friend and I were talking about projects we did in school when he mentioned that he had make a box out of dried water hyacinth. That's when i realised that this nuisance of a weed could be made into something beautiful," Shaikh says.
Soon after, Shaikh began research on handicrafts made using water hyacinth and this led him to Assam, the only other state in India where the weed is used to make handicrafts.
"I learnt the craft from a group of 100 artisans in Assam. When i came back, I recruited 20 women initially, and that's how Allika started," he explains.
Shaikh had approached a Hyderabad-based company called UnLtd, which offered to invest the principal capital for Shaikh's venture. Two years on, the company is growing at a 20% rate.
"Recently, we had put up stalls at various makes across Hyderabad and it was a grand success. We sell our products at the local centres, the villages where the institutes are located. We are also planning to rent a space for a store in a mall in Hyderabad sometime in June. So far, the project has been a success," Shaikh says.
You can visit Allika's Facebook page here.