Impact Edge

The projects at Impact edge aim to develop transformative design interventions that are primarily business and systems-oriented. 

The aim is to work along with the Medhar community of bamboo craftsmen in Karnataka and make an effort to use design as a tool for the transformation of their current livelihood conditions. By providing the craftsmen with training that develops their existing skillsets and also introducing new skills, the aim is to try and give the right kind of recognition to the

Primary Research
Local Markets

Before our visit to the town of Hunsur, we conducted basic research to make ourselves familiar with the material of Bamboo. The information about Bamboo was gathered by visiting the Bamboo Bazar in Bengaluru. 

Bamboo Bazar, Bengaluru

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Bamboo Bazar, Bengaluru

Learnings pre-visit
Medhar Community
Resources
Books

The project is being facilitated by The Industree Crafts Foundation which is based out of Bangalore. With the help of their expertise in crafts, detailed research for identifying craft clusters, and their know-how, the project will eventually focus on mobilizing these.

Industree Foundation was established in the year 2000, it aims at increasing the income of artisans who belong to non-farm occupations.

Primary Research
Medhar Settlements

For conducting our primary research, we traveled to Hunsur and Kodagu respectively. Before heading out for field research to Hunsur, we also visited the towns of Ramanagara and Channapatna to visit the Channapatna Crafts Park and also meet a few Medhar Families that are settled in those areas.

Karnataka

  • The people belonging to the Medhar community are settled all across the state of Karnataka.

  • One of the prominent strips where there are smaller settlements of these Medhar craftsmen ranges from Magadi to Madikeri, in between covering the towns of Ramanagara, Channapatna, Maddur, Mandya, Srirangapatna, Mysore, Hunsur, Periyapatna, and the Kodagu district.

  • Apart from these areas, there are more Medhar settlements in Shivamoga, Dandeli, Chikkamagalur, Dharwar, etc.

  • Each town has colonies of 4-5 Medhar families that are still practicing the Bamboo craft.

  • The people belonging to this community are brought under the scheduled tribe category.

  • From ancient times till today their craft focuses on making useful things that can be put to daily use.

Primary Research
Hunsur

Hunsur is a town that falls under the Mysore district. Hunsur has been a prominent town known for housing many Medhar families who are still in the practice. However, there are smaller taluks that fall under the Hunsur District. Hunsur is well connected through buses from both Mysore and Madikeri.
The nearby districts visited include Hanagood, Doddahejjure. Kalkunike, Ranganatha Badavane, and Thodalu.

 

Each district houses 2-3 Medhar families who practice the craft. Other families belonging to the Medhar tribe have either shifted to other odd jobs or have indulged themselves in the Textile industry or poultry farming.

Karnataka

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  • Most Medhar families have 5-6 members depending upon the number of children or whether or not they live with the elders.

  • The craft is seen practicing only by the elders in the family, as of today, the children of the family are not pushed to learn the craft, rather are sent to school and expected to find other well-paying jobs in nearby towns.

Participatory Rural Appraisal

The tools provided by the Participatory Rural Analysis were used to conduct the primary research. A baseline survey was used to gain important information and generate insights through general observations.

Hunsur District, Karnataka

  • What keeps you motivated about your craft? 

  • What are the other sources of income apart from selling Woven Bamboo products?

  • Does the younger generation also engage with the craft? If no, then what are their interests and aspirations?

  • How many months a year do your sales increase?

  • Are there any training camps that you've attended? If no, then why?

  • Are the roles assigned when it comes to dividing the work among family members? Is it as per interests, ease, expertise, or gender?

Research Questions
  • What are the species of Bamboo used for the purpose of weaving? Is it different from the species used for Ladder making and carpentry?

  • What is the average cost per Bamboo? Does the government subsidy help?

  • What are the processes followed to ensure the quality of Bamboo while making the products? How do you avoid the Bamboo from catching fungus?

  • Are there any techniques used to make the Bamboo baskets more durable?

  • How have the products evolved over the years?

  • How often do you try something new with weaving? Do you take any custom orders?

  • How do you ensure payment is made on time without negotiations?

On visiting the Medhar street in the Kalkunike Area of Hunsur for meeting a few Medhar craftsmen, we got to interact with various other families who lived in the same area.

 

As a method to break the ice and make them comfortable with us, we conducted a few activities with the kids. It was interesting to see how the elders also joined in and let their creative fluids flow. We spent an entire evening with these families, it helped in generating insights from all the general observations made. 

Research Tools Used

Medhar Street - Kalkunike

One of the main purpose of conducting this activity was to get to know a little me about the quality of education that they pursue, supporting professions that they practice, and other skills that they possess.

 

A lot of information was collected concerning schooling for these children, local markets, and also about the new occupations that these craftsmen families have pivoted towards to be able to earn a better livelihood and support their families. One of them is the textile industry.

Documenting the Craft

The Medhars produce a range of woven products that are used in various households. These include Baskets, Winnowers, Hand Fans, Sericulture mats, Chicken traps, Ladders, Storage baskets, cribs, icecream sticks, etc. The range of products is diverse and is subjective to the skill and resources of each craftsman.

Studying the process

While there are some craftsmen that develop woven products, the others only engage in the craft of ladder making. The availability of raw materials also decides the products that each craftsman decides to make. All the craftsmen display a deep understanding of the material and its structural properties, which is also the reason that they know the task of cutting, splitting, and slicing with precision. They try applying their knowledge of Bamboo's tensile strength, durability, and flexibility in the best way they can to the range of products that they make. The process of making these products was observed and studied in detail to get a better understanding of the craft with utmost scrutiny

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Tools Used

Each tool serves a specific purpose, The tool used to cut cutting the Bamboo is different from the tool used for splitting and slicing the Bamboo. The tool used during weaving also is separate.

Object Dimensions
Time taken to make each object

The dimensions of each product made regularly by these craftsmen were studied in proportion to the entire pole of Bamboo. The species used for weaving is called Dendrocalamus brandisii and the species used for ladder and fencing is called Bambusa Bambus. The government also issues Bambusa Bambus on a subsidies rate for the Medhars.


This analysis was done to understand the amount of material used in each product, which can later be useful in form development as well as costing of the products.

By calculating the time taken to make each product in detail and with respect to every part of the task, it helps figure out the number of hours put to make the products. By doing this analysis, deciding the price that these craftsmen deserve as a part of labor costs becomes easier and more effective.

Range of objects
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Karnataka

Context Mapping
Medhar Community
Range forest officer

Hunsur-Kodagu District

Interaction with
  • The National Bamboo Mission conducts Workshops for Medars that takes place once a year. They teach them how to make ladders, baskets, etc. and brush up the concepts. First, they show how the product is made and they teach them how to do it.

  • Most of the participants in these workshops are middle-aged women (mainly because of their interest and are eager to learn new techniques).

  • Registration of the workshops requires basic details. People are informed about the workshop about a month or month and a half for the workshop so that they are free to participate at that time.

  • NBM also distributes free Bamboo to Medhars against their caste certificate.

  • The artisans don’t have marketing skills and thus face problems in taking their product to the market/ selling their products.

  • If the government helps and intervenes to help them out or create a market space, it will create a better platform for them to sell their products.

  • Medar communities can get all the information about forest laws and policies from a near range forest officer in their area.

  • In order to know the rate of bamboo, they can refer to the hard copy in the RFO department.

Current value chain
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Stakeholder Mapping
Current situation

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  • The Medhars get Bambusa Bambos on a subsidised rate of ₹125-140 from the RFO

  • Bamboo provided by RFO is unsuitable for weaving

  • Medhars have to buy additional Bamboo for weaving

  • These craftsmen excel in skills like cutting, splitting & slicing of the bamboo.

  • One person in the family who is does cutting and slicing of the bamboo

  • The other person weaves/makes the ladder

  • The bamboo provided by the government is much harder as a material

  • Used in making ladders, fences, or as fuel

  • RFO conducts workshops & camps across India

  • Craftsmen don't attend it as they don’t teach any new skills.

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  • Very highly versatile material that can be used for large range of products

  • Available throughout the year and is largely self-propagating

  • Fastest growing, mature and ready for usage within 2-5 years in comparison to maturity of timber sources

  • Inspite of being an ancient craft there is still practice of the same in different capacities in several parts of India

  • Replenishable natural resource that has different parts suited to different functions/utility when it comes to the craft process

  • Concessions from the government on procurement for craft purposes by Medars (SC provisions under the law)

  • Bamboo craft has been a form of oral tradition of creativity that connects artisans & communities across barriers of language and socio-economic contexts.

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  • Prone to pests and corrosion due to high sugar and starch content

  • Requires treatment to ensure longevity

  • Tensile strength (vertical fibres) make it difficult to bend and further limit artisan’s capabilities.

  • There is no uniform brand/image to associate with bamboo craft from the Medar community, most work is sourced through word of mouth or middlemen.

  • There is limited range of products made by medars out of bamboo as they do not get opportunities to experiment with forms and designs, the customer segment is to blame as it is largely limited to the artisan’s immediate locality

  • There is a gap in perception of value for bamboo products/craft between the current customer segment and the artisans as they fail to understand the cost of time, material, labour needed for the same.

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  • There is a scope to look at bamboo as an alternate material for constructing infrastructure and fittings

  • Bamboo products are non-toxic, child-safe and could definitely be pushed to school/educational institutions

  • There is no infrastructure or resources maintained by all artisans and they could benefit from the establishment of a trust/barter economy that can maintain supply and stock of their products.

  • Bamboo is a good alternate to plastic especially when explored in different forms such as bamboo composites, fibres, fabric, paper, etc.

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  • Plastic is a stiff competition as it produces similar product forms at cheaper rates than bamboo

  • Hydrophobic nature of bamboo also makes it less preferred to plastic as it affects its utility and durability

  • Lack of innovation in the craft makes artisans dull and uninterested to explore the material to its full potential and further discourage their children to partake in the craft

  • Migration is common amongst the younger generation leading to further scattering of the community and detachment from bamboo crafting traditions

  • There is more profit in selling wares than practicing the production of the craft itself, there is an imbalance in the value chain and many artisans look for alternate sources of steady income

Screw Pine and Plastic Baskets

Hunsur-Kodagu District

Other found crafts

A few craftsmen belonging to the Shretu community who reside in Hunsur, practice the craft of making baskets using a combination of plastic wires and screw pine. This combination is used by him because it looks fashionable, different, and is highly durable.​

  • Material procurement
    -Plastic wire: Local shop
    -Screw pine: Locally available, can even cut it himself for free if found growing somewhere

  • Cost of Raw material
    -Plastic: Rs.100/kg (usually buys in small quantity; can make 8 baskets from 1kg)
    -Screw pine: usually free of co

    -Material preparation time: ½ hour, 5-6 hours to prepare material from 10 plants

  • Plastic and screw pine baskets:
    -Duration to make one basket: 1 hour
    -Capacity to make baskets in a day: Min.5, Max.10

  • Screw pine baskets:
    -Duration to make one basket: ½ hour
    -The material is split in different sizes; then divided in different lengths

There has been an increase in sale with the combination of raw materials to make baskets. Even with more sales from the combination baskets, there is more profit in the screw pine baskets, because:


• He has to spend more money on raw material in the case of combination baskets
• It takes more time to make combination baskets

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Hunsur, Karnataka

Aanganwadi
Research Visit
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Upon getting some details from the Medhar families in the Kalkunike Area, we visited the Aanganwadi next morning which is right across the street. This Aanganwadi is a part of a government school and is centrally located in Hunsur. Most children from the Medhar families attend this Anganwadi or government school. However, there are a few children who also attend MRNV Public school which is a private institution. The adjoining map can be used to understand the layout of the district.

Research Questions

Aanganwadi

  • What is the class strength in proportion to one teacher and one help?

  • What are the facilities provided by the government in the form of funds or in-kind?

  • What are a few motivations that you recognize that make these children look forward to coming to school?

  • How does the Aanganwadi help in spreading awareness about various issues among the parents of these children?

  • What are the kind of techniques used to deliver best knowledge to the children? Are teaching aids helpful?

  • Is there anything about the craft taught to these children? how often are topics that are related to local culture brought up?

Research Findings
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For Aanganwadi

Course Calender
Current situation
  • Posture affected due to lack of proper furniture

  • Issues with physical development

  • The Aanganwadi kids have one chair each sponsored by parents

  • Chair used only during aanganwadi years

  • Lack of basic furniture affects the attendance

  • Leads to increased drop outs

  • Anganwadi parents contribute some money to arrange basic seating

  • Eg: carpets, floor mats or plastic chairs.

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The adjoining problems were identified as a part of a research visit at an Anganwadi and a government school in Hunsur. The findings were verified using the secondary data available online to understand the situation of government school countrywide. The government schools do not have proper furniture for primary sections as the government cannot fund it for every school.
Here, the aim is to create furniture that can be used by a child from Anganwadi to class V.

Identified Needs
In order of priority

1. Furniture

2. Utensils for mid-day meals

 

3. Tools for cleaning the surrounding
 

4. Funds for contingencies

Case Studies

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Overall Key Insights

After conducting the primary and secondary research, the following insights were generated to create line of inquiries

  1. Having access to the course calendar of Aanganwadi helped in gaining a better understanding of the kind of activities that they engage in. It also helped in taking into account the methodologies used by teachers to teach these lessons. There is a lack of communication between the Medhars and forest department that leads to the distribution of unfit bamboo species

  2. Dendrocalamus Strictus is used for ladder and fencing, thus it can be used for carpentered products that can generate more revenue

  3. Lack of new skills taught during training can be a reason for no initiatives by Medhars for product development

  4. Provision of Furniture is an essential motivating factor to get to attend schools

  5. The parents of Anganwadi kids are ready for putting in some amount of money to provide the kids with the best possible classroom atmosphere

Problem Statement

The government schools of India have been suffering from lack of funds for years now. Especially the government schools in the smaller towns and villages, the funds allocated by the government are much lower due to while the enrolment rate is hampered. While trying to look at factors that affect the enrolment in a government school and an Anganwadi of Hunsur District, there were many areas that emerged to be potential design interventions. The purpose of the visit to the Anganwadi was to get more in-depth information about the Medhar families in that taluk. The condition of that school and Anganwadi spoke for all those government schools in the inner districts of the country that face similar problems.

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Design Brief

This project intends to generate a sustainable form of livelihood by deriving new ways for the craftsmen to re-engage with Bamboo and explore it’s potential so as to make a range of furniture for the government-run schools.

© 2020 by Srishti Garg