For conservation to be relevant, effective and long-term, it must benefit both animals and people. Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) along with the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) is working with women in Spiti to produce and sell quality products like crochet handicrafts and others, and in turn, garnering their valuable support for conservation.
For almost 20 years, NCF’s high altitude programme has been working to conserve the fragile wildlife of the Trans Himalayan region in India. In addition to working with local communities to restore wild ungulate habitat, finding measures to reduce conflict with wildlife and designing conservation education activities for government departments, youth, local communities, children, teachers, tourists and general public, we are always looking for new ways to enhance conservation and reduce conflict.
Nestled in the picturesque Spiti valley, Kibber and Chichim villages are at an altitude of around 4200 m. Spitians share their home with rare and beautiful animals like snow leopards, wolves, ibex, and bharal. But life isn’t always easy for both people and animals in this cold, harsh, lofty landscape. Primarily an agro-pastoralist community, they are now diversifying their sources of income to offset losses caused by climate change and livestock loss to snow leopards and wolves, amongst other factors.
In 2013, we teamed up with women from the two villages to set up a pilot project to produce and sell local products that could supplement their livelihood. We have collaborated with many talented and big-hearted artists like Aarika Solanki, Sarah Thomas, Sandhya Menon, Sandhya Srinivasan, Mala Srikanth, Arpit Agarwal and others to organise regular workshops on developing new products, and improving the quality and design of existing ones.
The women are already very comfortable working with yarn, and are now crocheting a variety of handicrafts ranging from earrings and bookmarks to table mats. We are also looking at exploring other crafts like block printing and embroidery that use local motifs, wildlife and landscape as inspiration. Our focus, however, is not limited to handicrafts: we hope to provide a viable market for agro-produce as well. Our very first such product is a crunchy, healthy preparation of roasted barley sprinkled with a medley of spices. We are now looking to sell these products, and many others (ideas for some of which are still in the kiln), in local, national and international markets.
This year, we hope to help these enterprising women make their first sales, under the brand Shen, which is also the local name for the snow leopard.