AVANI is a voluntary organization working in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, located in the middle ranges of the Central Himalayan region of India. The genesis of AVANI came about in the context of the isolation and consequent problems of the far-flung villages situated in one of the highest mountain ranges of the world. Its work focuses on developing and disseminating appropriate technologies for meeting the energy and water requirements of the local villages, promoting craft-based (development of handmade naturally dyed textiles) and farm-based livelihood opportunities. To date, AVANI projects include the dissemination of solar technology, water resource management, natural textiles and paints, and the social and economic development of rural communities with projects such as healthcare and micro-finance.
Nearly 23 years ago in 1992, Rashmi Bharti and Rajnish Jain moved from Delhi to Kumaon with the idea of working with the mountain communities, understanding their needs and bringing an improvement in the quality of life of people living in these remote areas.
Our first point of intervention with the village communities was household lighting with solar energy. The production and supply chain of electricity in the mountains is unreliable. So we started out by first electrifying our office with solar power and then trained rural youth to manufacture solar lights. We established a solar manufacturing unit in the villages,” says Rashmi. They also created a community system to collect money in a community fund for the maintenance of these services.” A service has no value unless it is paid for,” she explains.
To enhance the families’ income, Avani first interacted with 20 families who were traditional artisans well versed in hand spinning and weaving of Tibetan sheep wool. “The idea was to start building our capacity as an institution, reaching out to these families and developing a sustainable livelihood option in the villages, thereby empowering the rural communities,” says Rashmi.
What began as an income generation program, today has become a sustainable business founded and operated by the local artisans themselves under the banner Earthcraft – a Kumaon Self Reliant Cooperative facilitated by Avani in 2005. Earthcraft products include shawls, stoles, mufflers, home furnishings, and garments for men, women and children. They also produce organic detergent, organic kumkum, and eco friendly art supplies from natural dyes. Another product line that the cooperative is establishing is the production of colourants from locally available plants in the form of powders that can be used by different units for textiles application, cosmetics or even art supplies.
“We are using green energy for all our production processes. For many years we have used only solar energy in the form of solar powered spinning wheels and calendering machines for all our textile production”, says Rashmi. Quite recently they have started producing electricity using pine needles, converting an abundantly available resource into energy in a completely sustainable manner.
“We harvest rain water which is used for natural dyeing. The waste water is 100 percent recycled and is then used for irrigating our campus,” says Rashmi.
“All the textiles and garments we produce are sustainable because of the processes we follow and the revival of traditional skills of hand spinning and hand weaving. We only work with natural fibres like wool, silk, linen and a little bit of cotton. Till last year we were also growing silk. We have introduced spinning and weaving of silk, trained artisans in these skills and converted silk into garments” says Rashmi.
Read more about how AVANI is changing lives of young girls and women here.