Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘straw

The baskets of old Bihar

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RG-Bihar_baskets_201406

“Baskets used specially by the sower are called generally ora, ori or oriya (sometimes made partly with the fibre of the leaves of the tal palm); also we meet, to the west, chhainti, and to the east chhita (a large one), chhiti (a small one), or dauri. South of the Ganges they are also called in Patna batta (also in Shahabad), daura, or dauri (sometimes made of the culm of the silk grass, andropogon muricatum), in Gaya (also in North-East Tirhut) pathiya (also used for feeding cattle), and in South Munger khanchiya. The only difference amongst all these is that in the case of the daura and dauri the bottom is woven of bamboo slips, like a mat.

“There are likewise several other kinds of baskets, used indiscriminately for this and other domestic and agricultural purposes. Thus, small straw grain-baskets are changeli or changeri, and sometimes dali or daliya, especially towards the east. In Patna and South Munger they are called batri. Another very similar basket (but still smaller) is called very generally maunni or mauniya, also batta in Patna, Gaya and South Munger, and phuluki in East Tirhut. A large open basket made of split twigs of bamboo generally woven up with the fibre of the leaves of the til palm is called tokra, dhaka, dhaki, ora or chainta. A smaller variety is called ganja, tokri, dhakiya.

“When the bottom is very finely woven, so as even to hold water, it is called oraisa. The dhama is an open basket made of rattan. The khaincha or khancha is a large coarse basket made of twigs of cytisus cajan (rahar) or tamarisk (jhau). South of the Ganges we also find deli. A smaller basket of the same kind is known as khanchi (also khanjhi in North-East Tirhut), khanchiya, khacholi, pathuli (Gaya), nonihari (Patna), or (South Bhagalpur) damhariya. The dagra, dagri, also called South of the Ganges daura, dauri, or (South Bhagalpur) dala, is a large shallow basket. These are all made of either bamboo twigs or slips, except the daura or dauri. In Shahabad karui or doki, and north of the Ganges sikahuti or sikauti, is a little basket made of the stalks of the munj grass.

“A broken basket is chhitai, or in Gaya chhatna, or in South Bhagalpur chhitna. The jhampi or jhampiya is a little basket with a lid. It is also called punti or pautiya (being then generally made of munj grass) and petari (made of bamboo or rattan). A larger kind is called jhampa. The lid of all these is called pehani or jhamp. Thaicha or changor, or in Shahabad thaincha or thincha, is a kind of large open basket. Phuldali is a flower-basket, saji is one with a handle. In North-East Tirhut mator is a basket used by betel-growers.”

From ‘Bihar Peasant Life, Being a Discursive Catalogue of the Surroundings of the People of that Province‘, by George A Grierson, printed in 1885 at The Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta.

Woodfuel in the Western Ghats

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Goatherds in Chikodi taluka, Belgaum district, Karnataka

Goatherds in Chikodi taluka, Belgaum district, Karnataka

The woodfuel-and-dungcakes energy mix for rural India is alive and well in the hills of Maharashtra’s Deccan. The indications are that a combination of factors is at work. There’s less income for smallholder farming households, those farming families which have earnings have seen their monthly household budgets squeezed by rising food prices, and energy costs at least the same or more. That’s why I’ve seen in November and December – when early mornings and nights are cool to chilly, and heating at home is needed – more evidence of woodfuel use.

If you ask the energy planners and econometricians, they’ll say that fuelwood markets are important and have a great influence on shaping demand. As a rule this is likely to be true, but what we’re seeing here has resulted from a variety of volatile conditions. Let’s look at some of the alternatives that rural households in the hills use. A cylinder of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) costs about Rs 325 in a town in western Maharashtra (the 14.2 kg domestic cylinder). A sack of coal costs about Rs 300 to Rs 350 (20-25 kg) which will usually include the cost of transport (it’ll be carted along with other goods on the roof of an old jeep, in a tempo or lorry – state transport bus conductors are not partial to letting these sacks on board any more).

From the planners’ point of view, market conditions for wood are highly distorted due to government policies on fuel, energy and forests. That’s why discussing both demand and supply in the context of prices and market conditions is important, because in isolation the terms ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ for rural energy mean next to nothing.

It’s important too to a rural household that wood is a multi-use material. For instance, for eucalyptus, the thickest portion of the trunk can be used as timber, if the girth of the trunk, with bark, is more than 70 cm. Poles are used for scaffolding support and as roofing material. The dimensions of logs for use as poles are 3 to 6 metres in length, and 30 to 70 cm in girth (cut pieces of similar girth but shorter are used as pulpwood in paper mills). All smaller pieces, twigs, bark, and roots, which cannot be used elsewhere, are used as fuelwood. Thus there is no single wood market in a town or peri-urban settlement. I’ve found it safe to say that the set-up and behaviour of each market differs from others depending upon the range of species available, and the purposes for which each wood species can be put to use.

Hillside grasses, ghat in Kolhapur district, Maharashtra

Hillside grasses, ghat in Kolhapur district, Maharashtra

All that said, the main point here is that the price of fuelwood has risen in the hills of Maharashtra’s Deccan. A buyer will now pay Rs 60 for a ‘maund‘ of ‘jungli‘ wood and Rs 80 for a ‘maund‘ of babul wood. Now a ‘maund‘ is around 37 kg, so that makes a metric ton of ‘jungli‘ wood worth about Rs 1,620 (without complicating the matter with discounts for weight) and a metric ton of babul wood is worth around Rs 2,160. That’s a pretty steep annual growth rate because at the start of the 2000s – according to those who know about these things in Kolhapur, Satara and Pune – the price of a ton of ordinary wood was around Rs 1,300 and they also said that the price then was twice what it had been (around 700/ton) a decade earlier.

This is both worrying and curious. Worrying because it means that sources of energy among some sections of the rural population are defaulting to the woodfuel-dungcakes mix. Worrying also because it means that natural and protected forests, orchard and scrub are being scoured for woodfuel. Curious because we are in 2010 going to be less informed about the relative importance of the three major biofuels to rural households: has the animal population grown in the last decade? have the growing number of bio-gas plants installed during the last 15 years taken away from the dungcake source? have commercial crops reduced the available quantities of husk and straw (and what’s the effect on these as animal feed? We know a lot less than we think, but we do know what a ‘maund‘ of babul costs so that it can heat a hill household in winter.