Six women from Assam are creating 100% compostable yoga mats that can save lakes6 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
A group of six women, belonging to the fishing community from Deepor Beel, have come together to create environment-friendly yoga mats.
Let’s get to know more about their story, shall we?
Deepor Beel is a permanent freshwater lake in Guwahati, Assam. It is a paradise for environmentalists with close to 200 migratory birds, 50 fish species, 18 species of snakes, and 12 species of lizards. But the lake is also heavily infested by the beautiful disaster, water hyacinth.
Now, there is no denying the fact that if you were to pass by a lake covered in water hyacinth, you will gasp at the beauty of the scenery it presents. But in a classic case of all that glitters is not gold, you will be surprised to know that the flowers cause a lot of damage to the aquatic ecosystem they inhabit. The weed grows at a fast pace and its dense foliage blocks access to sunlight for underwater flora and fauna. And light is essential for sustenance.
Did you know that the water hyacinth is not native to India? It originated in the Amazon basin in South America but was brought here by the British. This continental movement is credited to the wife of the First British Governor-General, Lady Hastings.
But there are always ways to remedy the past, and six women from Assam are using water hyacinth to make 100% compostable mats to keep the lakes at Deepor Beel healthy, and to offer employment opportunities to the women of the area.
Meet the crew
The women Mitali Das, Romi Das, Bhanita Das, Sita Das and Mamoni Das together started Simang. Simang translates to ‘dream’. After a year of brainstorming, and seeking guidance from specialists in the field of natural products, the women came up with the perfect structure for their product which they call, Moorhen Yoga Mats, named after the migratory bird, Purple Moorhen, that is unique to Deepor Beel.
The women believed that the water hyacinth was affecting fishing activities, and consequently the livelihood of fishermen and fisherwomen. This is when they thought of finding a one-stop solution to the problem.
These mats are made of mostly water hyacinths and other naturally procured material. Even the dyes used for colouring them are natural dyes! They are handwoven and are 100% biodegradable.
Initially the team thought they will try turning used fishing nets into sustainable bags. But later, they thought of using the infecting water hyacinth to tackle the problem from its roots—pun intended! They intended to make bags and table runners. While exploring their options, they found yoga mats!
The venture was supported by Meghalaya-based North East Centre for Training and Research (NECTAR) that offered technological support to speed up the process of creating the maps.
The whole body of work from creation to supply is done by the team that saw participation from thirty-eight women from neighbouring villages.
How is the mat made?
The creation of the mats is also a purification process for the lakes. The mats are made by removing water hyacinths from the lake. Then, they are sun-dried. After sun drying, twelve kilograms of the weed reduces to merely two-three kilograms! Once the weed dries, its stems are woven between cotton threads to makes the mats.
Earlier, it took ten days for the weed to dry but with the help of NECTAR, the team has been able to procure a solar dryer. The solar dryer has reduced the number of days it takes for the weed to dry from ten to three days. In a place where monsoons last for six months, it has also offered an alternative to natural drying which is also sustainable.
Here’s what a member of the team has to say about this venture:
They have already sold 100 mats to a client in the USA. They have also prepared an additional 1,500 for NECTAR. Right now, the team can create 700 mats in a month. They are hoping to take this number to 1,000.
This initiative has led to a ripple effect that has positively impacted livelihood, environment, and cultural heritage. Our natural world is full of secret wonders, only if we find in ourselves the inclination to see.
Are you looking?
(The Buzz is a fortnightly column that explores bright ideas that became reality)