OUR STORY

Conservation-based Livelihood Opportunities that Sustain Rural Lifestyles

about

Nestled in the Kumaon region of the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, Avani is a community built on the principles of sustainability and local empowerment. A global network of diverse employees, interns and volunteers give life to Avani’s community-centric rural development programs. In a region where small farms are many families only source of income, Avani is a hub of opportunity; constantly developing new approaches to sustainable, conservation-based livelihood generation for rural communities. The name “Avani” comes from the Hindi word for Earth. Avani creates opportunities for rural women and men to find viable employment through a self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable supply chain. Every business decision related to Avani products is guided by a strong responsibility toward environmental best practices and sensitivity to the cultural context of the villages where we work. Avani was founded in 1997, originally as the Kumaon chapter of the Barefoot College. In 1999, Avani was formally registered as a non-profit organization.
APPROACH

Social Enterprise Meets Social Empowerment

approach

Avani creates a lasting shift in the socio-economic fabric of rural villages. Our holistic approach to employment opportunities ensures sustainable livelihoods for women and families, resilient communities and vibrant ecosystems.  At Avani, the process of production is as important as the products themselves. We combine traditional knowledge and craft with a modern approach to production and distribution. We take a triple bottom line approach to address Economy, Ecology and Empowerment. We use local resources to create contemporary products and services for a global market. The cornerstones of our work have always been environmental conservation, women’s empowerment, fair trade and preservation of traditional knowledge. Our projects are inspired by and tailored to the unique topography, resources and culture of this Central Himalayan region. Building on local knowledge and practices, Avani puts naturally available resources to use in innovative ways in collaboration with local people.

COMMUNITIES WE WORK WITH

Local people. Local skills. Locally-sourced materials.

community

Avani focuses on capacity building in rural communities, and on creating opportunities for women and families to make sustainable contributions to their villages. We are devoted to generating income for local people using only local skills and local, environmentally friendly materials. Our primary focus is on sustainably harvested and produced tints, dyes, textiles and garments. Today, Avani includes a network of nearly 800 artisans and farmers who work together to grow, process, design and create products that generate income for local residents. Products range from raw natural colorants for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to eco-friendly art supplies for children to textile printing and dyeing. Each product line is part of a high quality industry on track to scale and compete in international markets. Avani initially began working with the Shauka community, also known as Johari or Johari Shauka, of the Bageshwar and Pithoragarh districts. Traditionally, the Shaukas lived a nomadic life and were a part of the thriving Indo-Tibetan trade before Tibet was taken over by China. This made them increasingly dependent on spinning and weaving – a traditional craft they practiced to process animal fiber for their use and commerce.
SUSTAINABILTY

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Techniques
Born out of a deep respect for the environment, our focus has been on conservation rather than distribution; more on self reliance than outside dependence. We endeavor to make technology and livelihoods an integral part of living, being and celebrating life in these beautiful mountain ranges. In order to realize this dream, we initiated work on developing and disseminating appropriate technologies for meeting the energy and water requirements of the local villages.
Materials
Avani works with a variety of natural fibers and materials to create its artisanal products. Several species of rare plants and trees provide dye materials, as well as the natural soap (from the soapnut tree) with which we wash and care for our textiles. The farmers who cultivate and collect these materials enter into sustainable livelihoods and become a part of a larger production cycle. Using these renewable materials also provides incentive to plant, grow and protect the plants and trees that yield them, thus preserving the local ecology.
  
CLEAN ENERGY

A Homegrown Model for Renewable Energy

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We are working on several clean energy technologies including solar energy for rural homes and charcoal as a clean cooking fuel for rural households. These solutions not only provide clean energy, but also contribute to enhancing biodiversity, a major contributor to reducing carbon emissions.

SOLAR

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Since its inception, Avani has brought solar lights to the remote and inaccessible villages of Uttarakhand. In those early days, the rugged terrain kept the region disconnected from the electric grid. Solar lighting for every home was a sustainable, accessible option. We created community-based systems for development and dissemination of solar lighting and heating technology for rural use. To fabricate, install and maintain these systems, we trained community members as solar technicians. The entire village enthusiastically participated in contributing to the upkeep of these systems. 
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Avani has trained over forty local youth as solar technicians, about half of whom are young women. They comprise a reliable local maintenance network, which now handles all solar technology repairs.

Avani has trained over forty local youth as solar technicians, about half of whom are young women. They comprise a reliable local maintenance network, which now handles all solar technology repairs.


ELECTRICITY AND COOKING CHARCOAL

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Avani’s Bio Energy Programme is an innovation in energy supply and sustainable livelihoods for rural communities in Central Himalaya. The central component of the program is a pine-needle-fueled power station, with local women and men gathering and delivering all the pine needles and other materials needed to sustain the station. The Bio Energy Program helps create a lasting source of clean energy – including low-cost cooking charcoal and energy for light and heat – for 100-150 village households as well as stable livelihoods for approximately 100 families.

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Avani has also developed an efficient, inexpensive charcoal cook stove made entirely from locally available materials. Local people will be trained to manufacture and repair the stoves, using a training model similar to the successful solar lantern system, generating more livelihoods. By increasing the availability of reliable electricity, we will be driving economic growth in the area. This will, in turn, reduce the migration of men, keep families together, and contribute to the well being of the community as a whole. 

 

TEXTILES

We began creating textiles in an effort to increase the income of very poor families while preserving their traditional craft of hand spinning and weaving. This helped create livelihood opportunities while conserving and improving a traditional craft. The traditional textile skills of rural communities are truly unique, but due to industrial textiles and changed consumer preferences, the returns on this craft have plummeted over the years, discouraging younger generations from taking up textiles as a livelihood option. Avani has worked towards upgrading the skills, materials and tools to revive this dying traditional craft and make it a viable livelihood opportunity.
FIBRES AND YARNS

fibre

wool

Wool

HAND SPUN TIBETAN SHEEP WOOL
As the name suggests, this long fiber and very warm wool comes from the Tibetan plateau, a high altitude region of the Himalayas. Tibetan sheep wool is easily handspun by local people, gets softer with use and is very durable. We often blend Tibetan sheep wool with other fibers, including merino wool and silk.

 

Silk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avani uses wild silk (as opposed to cultivated silk) in its products. This means that the silk cocoons are collected in the wild, from local plant species.

Silk yarns vary in their method of production. A yarn that is reeled with machines uses un-pierced silk cocoons, in which the cocoon is steam boiled to kill the pupa. This is done to stop the emergence of the moth, which would have pierced the cocoon if natural processes were allowed to occur. In our case, we allow the pupa to metamorphose into a moth then hand spin the silk to make Ahmisa Silk, or non-violent silk. The moth pierces the cocoon to escape, breaking the strands of the cocoon, and resulting in fiber that needs to be spun by hand. Ahimsa Silk is used in all our products, with the exception of some muga silk.

HAND-SPUN TUSSAR SILK
Originally, tribal communities collected the cocoons of tussar silk in the forests of Central and Eastern India. Avani purchases tussar silk yarn from other parts of the country, supporting the livelihood of many Indian spinners. Tussar silk has a unique, pebbly texture and is naturally beige in color.

HAND-SPUN ERI SILK
The cocoons of eri silk are collected in the wild from castor plants in local villages. Alternatively, eri silk worms are fed on leaves picked from these castor plants. Eri silk is always hand spun (thus non-violent), and is unique in its natural insulating properties.

HAND AND MACHINE-SPUN MUGA SILK
Muga is the most expensive and the finest of India’s wild silks. It is collected from the forests in the Northeast, where its host trees, Litchia polyantha and Michelis bombacina, are found. It is naturally gold in color, with an extremely rich texture. The yield of muga silk is very low, making it extremely expensive. Aside from our hand-spun muga silk, we also purchase reeled muga silk from producers in Assam to meet our production demands.

Linen

Avani now works with a specialized range of products in pure linen as well as linen blended with silk and wool. The raw material comes from Belgium and is processed and spun in India.

Pashmina

Avani produces a small range of goods using pashmina purchased as a raw material from Tibet and Ladakh, India.

Natural dyes

The use of natural dyes is traditional to all artisan communities. In Kumaon, this skill has existed in the Shauka community for hundreds of years. However, mass produced, cheap, chemically dyed products are causing this skill to slowly disappear, leading to higher costs and depleting markets. Traditionally, the color palette in natural dyes was limited to browns, yellows and pink.

Avani’s work has revived this traditional skill of natural dyeing through intensive training and experimentation to increase the natural dye color palette. We are now producing a range of colors, including brown, yellow, orange, red, blue, violet and green. We are coloring natural fibers like wool, silk, pashmina and linen with locally available dye plants. The only plants we use that are not locally available are blue and red, which we make using natural indigo and shellac sourced from other parts of India.

Over the past seven years, our work has involved research and experimentation with a variety of local plants. We have experimented with more than fifty plants of our area and have identified the dye yielding properties in them. We use plants that provide stable color and are either abundantly available in the wild or easily cultivable. We are now working with the cultivation and harvesting of dye yielding plants as a livelihood options for local farmers.

Process of production

Our work with textiles has evolved through continuous dialogue with local communities about their needs. We are dedicated to providing fair wages for all contributing artisans and farmers, empowering women to negotiate for their livelihoods and creating an opportunity for the rural poor to make a living from what they earn in their villages.

Over the years, many people have been trained as artisans, and existing artisans have refined their craft through additional training. The artisans have been so successful that they are now organized as a self-reliant cooperative organization called EarthCraft.

We also believe that the process of production is as important as the product itself. As both water and energy are scarce resources in our area, we have implemented systems to conserve both. Runoff rainwater from rooftops is harvested for natural dyeing and wastewater is treated naturally and used for irrigation to grow vegetables.

Clean energy is being used for many energy needs throughout production. We have trained a group of local boys to manufacture solar water heaters and solar driers that are used for preheating water for dyeing and drying of dye materials respectively. The use of these devices helps us to conserve energy.

Solar powered spinning wheels have been installed in unelectrified villages to improve the productivity of household spinnings. Finally, the machine we use to iron our textiles is powered by electricity produced from pine needles.

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