Women explore commercial potential of Himalayan fiber-producing wild plant

Nepal, June 2013 - Women in the mountain region of Nepal are at the forefront of developing the commercial potential of a wild plant that is indigenous in the Himalayas. The plant is known as the Himalayan giant nettle. The Nepalese women are associated with WINNER-Nepal, a women entrepreneurs’ network for cooperation and business development.  

Allo is a tough fiber but after continued washing it becomes soft and gentle on the skin.  Himalayan giant nettle grows from 1.5 to 3 meters in height with perennial root stock.  It is found in 52 of the 75 districts of Nepal.The plant bears both the male and female flowers in the same stalk. It grows wild under forest canopies between the altitudes of 1500 m. to 3000 m. The plant is sturdy and grows well even in difficult environments. Different varieties grow together in the same shrub.

In the hilly districts of Sankhuwasabha, Pyuthan, Parbat, Soluknumbu, Myagi, Achham, Bajhang and Bajura, local folks are engaged in allo production as it required for every cultural and religious function of the local inhabitants who hail mainly from Rai, Gurung and Magar communities. In the absence of new technology or machine to process barks and stalk of the nettle plant, the local people depend on manual labor to make the thread and weave it into fabrics.

The strict gender segregation in the mountain region of Nepal allows only women to be involved in allo thread and fabric production. For one, they are skilled in weaving and knitting allo thread into various novelty products. The work is extremely time-consuming, hence production is slow. Majority of women in the mountain communities of Nepal are involved in allo production.  Allo thread making requires such tedious work that an individual can only make 200-400 grams of thread in a day.

Himalayan nettle plants are harvested once a year from the forests.  Because there is no nettle plant cultivation at a commercial level, the allo fabric is in short supply. Apparels made from allo are very expensive as compared to other fibers like cotton. Smaller products made from allo fiber have been introduced in the market. Producers, however, have been exporting the fabrics as raw materials to India, Japan and Sri Lanka.

At present, the Nepalese Government has no policy yet for promoting allo fabrics but individual organizations and businesspersons have been making efforts to raise awareness about the fabric. The demand for allo apparel is on the rise as more and more foreigners find the uniqueness of the fiber being soothing to hypersensitive skin. But the pace for allo being used in apparel is  extremely slow. Instead, demand for allo thread is rising rapidly for carpet making. Allo could be an important source of income for people in poor mountain communities since the raw materials are found in most parts of Nepal. Besides, nettle plant grows well even under difficult natural conditions and pesticides and fertilisers do not have to be used to keep the plant alive as is mostly done with cotton. Unlike other plants, the nettle plant regenerates from the leftover stems year after year.

 For further information you may contact: SABAH NEPAL at http://www.sabahnp.org/