In Jaffna, the Palmyrah Handicrafts Centre helps uplift the lives of women

Ms. P. Jamunadevi, President of the Jaffna Palmyrah Handicraft (Guarantee) Limited

We are greeted by an array of colourful products, made out of palmyrah, found in abundance in Northern Sri Lanka, as we step into the sales center of the Palmyrah Handicrafts (Guarantee) Limited. The sales centre was established this year and is today bustling with activity.  And, there is much that the crafters of these products can be proud of.

Two years ago, the palm handicraft makers in Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka had little opportunity to market their products despite the high demand for palm based organic eco-friendly products in the region.

Highlights

  • Two years ago, the palm handicraft makers in Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka had little opportunity to market their products despite the high demand for palm based organic eco-friendly products in the region.
  • In the first instance, with UNDP's support, 42 women beneficiaries received advanced training through the National Design Centre (NDC) and Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) on product designs and styles.
  • Today, there are 70 members of the Palmyrah Handicraft Guarantee, and they earn at least Rs. 20,000 a month.

“When we started off as palm handicraft makers, we were making these products in our homes and this didn’t bring us much income. In addition, the products were not of very high standards, and we faced many challenges, especially in marketing these products and improving their quality,” says Ms. P. Jamunadevi who is the President of the Jaffna Palmyrah Handicraft (Guarantee) Limited.

Yet, today, there is much that palm women, can be proud of.

In 2012, UNDP, under its Rebuilding Agricultural Livelihoods Programme, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA-RALP), initiated a project to provide better opportunities for Jaffna district-based palm handicraft makers to make a market for their products. Advanced training with new technology like using market preferred colours, and user friendly chemicals for treatment of “ola” leaves, along with diversified product designs, were introduced through a systematic market analysis and training.

Initially, 42 women beneficiaries were selected from the Sandilipay, Pungudutheevu, Velalani and Madduvil areas to receive advanced training through the National Design Centre (NDC) and Industrial Technology Institute (ITI).

“These trainings were very useful for us. They helped us change the designs and styles of our products. We used new technologies and were able to increase our production. Through this, we were able to market our products better and increase our income and profit levels,” Ms. Anadarani from Madduvil goes on to explain.

There is more. A year or so ago, many of the women trainees earned a mere Rs. 5000 a month while producing these products at home. Today, Ms. T. Shoba says, they are able to earn at least Rs. 20,000 a month. “This is more or less equivalent to the monthly income of a Government employee,” she adds.

Further, UNDP facilitated the establishment of a company for the women trainees. As such, the Jaffna Palmyrah Handicraft (Guarantee) Limited, was successfully registered in 2012. 

This was crucial in paving the way for the women trainees to come under one banner and work for themselves. “We are proud to be the shareholders of the. This is our group. It has brought more value to what we do. We are both owners and producers now,” she adds.

Ms. Mahalingam goes on to say that all these interventions have also helped bring about a change in attitude towards palm-based handicraft production. “Previously, not many people, especially youth were too keen on following this trade, but having seen the improvements this have brought about in our lives, there are more people wanting to do similar designs.”

The Board of Members of the Palmyrah Handicraft (Guarantee) Limited are eager to progress further. There are plans to increase awareness on such products among the people in their areas, while requests have also been received for further trainings. Yet, the determination doesn’t stop there. “We want this product to be international – we want to be known internationally,” Ms. T. Susheeladevi says.  

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