Lack of working capital has put the bamboo and cane industry at village Araiora in Cumilla Adarsha Sadar upazila in severe crisis.
Artisans involved in the traditional trade now find repayment of loans difficult because of high interest rates while many could not manage any loans to run their business.
The villagers, mostly scheduled caste Hindus, have sold items made of bamboo for generations. Around one thousand people are involved in this profession.
But, they are facing a crisis after having taken high-interest loans and, simultaneously, not having received adequate loans.
The artisans said they collect Talla bamboo, Muli bamboo and Boora bamboo from Lalmai upazila of Cumilla.
The price of each bamboo varies from Tk120-Tk250. They first soak the bamboo in water, and then dry it.
After soaking the dried bamboo again, the process of collecting cane starts. When the work is over, they start making baskets with it.
Usually they make stock, cage and different types of baskets. During the monsoon, they make fishing traps. On average, the price of each product is Tk120. An artisan can make 15 to 20 products per week.
These products are sold at Daudkandi upazila of Comilla, Chawkbazar of Cumilla, Homna upazila and Bancharampur market of Brahmanbaria. The traders come to the village to buy goods directly from the artisans.
Of the around 1,000 people involved in this profession, more than 600 of them are women.
A cottage artisan can save an average of Tk5,000 per month excluding food expenses. From the money saved, they pay for their children's education, loan repayment and ancillary expenses.
Artisans told The Business Standard that although they have been involved in the cottage industry for generations, people of the scheduled caste community have been unable to expand the industry as they are under pressure of NGO loans.
Despite being very skilled, some artisans occasionally fail to supply the required products for lack of sufficient capital.
As a result, despite huge market demand, the cottage artists cannot supply enough products. Meanwhile, the young generation of the community is growing inclined toward other professions as they cannot keep pace with time and cannot make new investment.
Many are going abroad. Although many women are involved in this profession, the number of male artisans is decreasing day by day.
Subhash Chandra Namo from the community has been involved in this profession for the last 30 years. He said, "I have kept this profession for hereditary reasons. I want to continue the work no matter what the income is. But so far no initiative is visible to revive the industry."
Shankar Chandra Namo, another cottage artisan from the village, said, "I can make bamboo and cane products very quickly as I am involved in the industry for several years. I can make at least eight baskets a day. I would have enjoyed working if I hadn't been dragged down by the financial crisis."
Kanan Bala Das, a cottage artisan, said, "A part of the money I earn in a week goes to repaying loans. If we had been backed by low interest loans and government support it would have been possible to carry on our traditional profession."
Moroni Rani Das of the village said that her only son was disabled. She and her husband are both cottage artisans. They cannot save any money as they are living their lives from hand to mouth.
Abul Kalam Azad, chairman of Uttar Durgapur UP under Sadar upazila, said, "There are many opportunities for easy loans for cottage artisans. But they are not able to maintain this profession as there is no coordination of income with production. If a cottage artisan can make five products a day, he cannot even profit Tk300, so why should he keep this profession?"
When contacted, ZM Mizanur Rahman, Deputy Director, Social Services Office, Cumilla Region, said, "The Adarsha Sadar Upazila's social service officer will be instructed to provide whatever assistance is needed to improve the living standards of cottage artisans in Araiora."