Up to 30 meters tall, the palmyra (or toddy) palm is an iconic tree of Northern Sri Lanka and Southern India. The tree thrives in arid conditions and has numerous positive effects on its environment: it controls erosion, stores water for times of drought and shelters many species in its spathe. For local communities palmyra is a sustainable source of a host of products: edibles such as fruits, juice, jaggery (unrefined sugar), arrack (palm wine), even folk medicines, pickled fruits and vinegar; its timber and leaves are used in construction and remains feed cattle. The handicraft and household items made from palmyra are important for the local economy: brooms, mats, and baskets are used by rural people for their daily chores.
In Sri Lanka’s Mannar region, ECLOF has long been financing groups of craftsmen and women who produce palmyra products. Recently ECLOF Sri Lanka expanded its financing and training activities to cover the whole value chain around palmyra: those who prepare raw material from the tree, those who produce the items, who market them locally and others who ship products to other places.
One of the solidarity groups is Velankanni Small Group in Chavattkaddu, Mannar, originally formed by Suman, an award-winning skilled craftsman. The membership of the group is 10 (05 women and their 05 husbands) and they come from different families who’ve been doing palmyra works for generations. One family can produce 350 pieces monthly. But still all group members have to supplement their income with different side jobs: preparing food, running a grocery shop, or working as a security officer. Each night the group gathers for four to five hours to cut and color the palmyra branches and produce the items. They share the workshop, buy raw material and market their products together.
ECLOF has connected the group with others who engage in adjacent stages of the palmyra value chain like supplying the raw material or distributing finished products. Consequently joining in a group through ECLOF has brought the members not only access to loans and training but also business synergies and spiritual support among each other.
20 children depend on the group. When the group was formed ECLOF staff noticed that they had almost no savings. During ECLOF’s on-boarding process, they were encouraged to get into the habit of saving a little every day—for the sake of their children. The members of the group plan to take out a next loan to open a retail shop so they can sell their products directly. And the group is poised to grow shortly as five new members want to benefit from the brand name the group has made for itself—and from access to loans from ECLOF.