This is the story of the Godavari Lace Makers in India.
Godavari Cooperative is a women’s Fair Trade producer group in Narsapur, on the West Godavari Delta, in India.
Their specialism is the handicraft of crochet lace making and tailoring.
They make high-quality crochet flower purses, bags, brooches and necklaces, shawls and homeware such as lace bedspreads and tablecloths.
Narsapur is a small township in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh Province and sits on the right bank of the Godavari river, the lifeline for the large tracts of fertile lands all around.
The Godavari, incidentally, is India’s second longest river (after the Ganges river) and drains into the third largest basin in India, covering about 10% of India’s total geographical area!
HOW GODAVARI CAME ABOUT…
About 150 years ago, the womenfolk of the farming community began to use their leisure time to create colourful lace.
The women then realised they could augment their families’ income by selling these lace items. However, their lack of proper organisation and the entry of “middlemen” lead to exploitation!
While the beautiful creations made by the villagers after hours and days of painstaking handwork were sold for a low price, these traders / middlemen would sell them off in cities for large profit for themselves.
It’s the familiar story of unfair trade.
Step forward the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) of West Godavari district and the birth of the Godavari Cooperative in the early 2000s.
HOW DOES GODAVARI HELP THE ARTISANS?
The “social premium” from the sale of the women’s products now goes towards a number of projects, including free eye tests and glasses to the artisans, money to widows and those too old to work and rice and presents to AIDS orphans.
They also make free school uniforms. And local people receive blankets and saris in the event of a natural disaster such as the major floods.
Furthermore, the lace makers have a yearly eye check, as lacemaking can be fine work and the group buy glasses for those that need them.
AIDS is an enduring problem in India and Godavari support the orphans of former artisans, as well as orphans in the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh.
The family running Godavari are Christian. They support around 1,000 lace artisans across 40 picturesque villages in Andhra Pradesh where the cooperative has members.
Recently Godavari have sourced handloomed cotton from small producers using mainly vegetable dyes and traditional kalamkari block printing for clothing and homeware.
HOW DO THE ARTISANS LIVE AND WORK?
The women producers either work together outside a central house, or work in their own homes – collecting orders and then making the products at home.
Traditionally women, especially widows, have a particularly difficult life in India and rely on their families to support them financially.
Naturally this is pretty precarious and so lacemaking helps them secure an income.
Life for everyone in these villages is hard and for most people it’s all about securing the basics.
Godavari are doing their best, under difficult circumstances, to develop a model of Fair Trade that benefits everyone involved.
Agriculturally, this area is very productive but land is disproportionately expensive – from £2,000 to £8,000 per acre depending on soil fertility and proximity to the road.
And with agricultural labourers’ wages at $2 per day for a man and $1.50 for a woman, with only part-time work, it’s easy to see how hard it is to manage, never mind get out of the poverty trap.
There are thousands of coconut trees in central and south India and many families will have three or four in a garden.
Coconuts ripen year round, so they are a good source of nutritian for the families
Some of the houses have water buffalo and communal wells and milk can be a valuable source of protein in a vegetarian Hindu diet.
Labourers only get work at busy times of the year, planting and harvest being the best.
Only men work in the fields. With having such a large population – now 1.2 billion – and with no welfare net for the people, their full employment is essential.
AND THE PRODUCTS THEY MAKE….
An example of their handiwork is this crochet flower purse in stripy pink and red with crochet flowers plus sequins at the top border.
It has a zip top and is fully lined in matching satin. It is Fair Trade and handmade in fine cotton crochet.
Thank you for reading this Blog post. If you have any thoughts to share or comments to make, please do so below – Paul