Cottage industries on the verge of extinction due to deforestation and modernisation in Bengal How the traditional bamboo and cane goods have lost their ways into Bengal’s market

03, Jul 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

There was a time when one would be surrounded by traditional trees of Bamboo and cane, while travelling towards the interiors of rural Bengal. Trees that enabled thousands of villagers to find a way to earn their living. They provided an ecosystem on which small cottage industries once thrived. But with modern age, deforestation and the beginning of newer industries, slowly these small cottage industries are disappearing. 

At the break of dawn, artisans involved in rural industries would be seen taking bamboo seats, tables, vases, baskets, fishing cages, poultry cages to different markets, traditionally known in Bengal as haats for sale. Along with men, women also participated in making these products. But with time, these artisans are fading away.  Many have left the profession due to reduced demand.  Products made from the bamboo plant were once a major source of employment for unemployed youth and women. With modernism, our needs and tastes have changed. So has the conditions of these extremely skilful artisans. 

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Kalimuddin Sheikh of Birbhum, who was once involved in the cottage industry related to bamboo and cane goods, spoke to me about this. According to him, “Many people involved in this industry have changed careers. I have been involved in this profession since childhood. In those days, the price of a single piece of bamboo was Rs. 60-70 per piece but now the price of that bamboo has increased to Rs. 250-300. Also, back in those days, bamboo was found in abundance in the countryside but now the number is negligible. People are now creating their own hobby gardens with different kinds of plants but the cottage industries related to our bamboo production are disappearing. Even today, although it’s become a rare affair, I make four to five baskets of bamboo and cane, a day.  Each basket sells for 80 rupees in the market. One piece of bamboo can make up to five baskets. Profits have become extremely low in this profession.”

To gain a little bit more knowledge about this I went to speak to Social worker Mofidul Hasan. Modicum has been working towards the betterment of Bengal’s rural artisans for years. According to him, “people involved in the rural economy should stand by these artisans’ side. With government support and services, the rural economy will turn around again.  Rural economy is on the verge of extinction today. People are engaged in agriculture but unable to switch to alternative occupations. As there are no alternative occupations in villages other than agriculture, many people leave the state for daily wage jobs that prove to be unsafe, unreliable and extremely risky at times. Various integrated farming arrangements should be made possible for these hapless villagers, by government initiatives.  Through integrated farming, the rural economy can be revived and the unemployed youth will be provided with employment.”

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It is our duty to preserve the tradition of various types of small and cottage industries including bamboo and cane industries. The West Bengal government has taken various initiatives to keep small and medium industries alive but many people in rural areas are yet to be a part of those initiatives.  Thousands of artisans have not yet received the amount of support they need from the government. Many of them are forced to leave the profession and choose alternate professions without getting proper opportunities. If this is how it progresses, many rural artisans will die a slow occupational death in the years to come. 

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by aspiring journalist and student activist Ripon Sheikh from Birbhum in West Bengal. In these reports Ripon looks at the people around him – migrant workers, the families they leave behind, agricultural labourers, women who do housework, rural artisans and young people, with a keen sense of compassion.

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.


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