Creative green economy

Revitalising traditional production techniques with innovation and scale

Nepal’s indigenous communities possess unique skills and craft innovative goods for daily use. Yet, their traditional livelihoods face limitations. Many crafts are disappearing as younger generations are less interested in carrying them forward. This decline stems from a lack of recognition, marketability and integration into supply chains.

Traditionally, indigenous communities in Nepal employed sustainable production methods. Their goods also held cultural significance and embodied artistic value. This knowledge is undergoing a revival as younger generations learn these practices to minimise environmental impact and promote a more inclusive economy.

Aayusha Shrestha, Designer and Founder of Thumlan, has been working with nomads in Upper Mustang to develop tents from the outer hair of yaks. “Initially, they used to sell only inner hair at nominal cost, which was interrupted following the Covid-19 pandemic and the outer hair used to go to waste,” she said, adding, “We found three families in Upper Mustang with weaving skills and we are working with them.”

Due to climate change, Upper Mustang is facing water shortage and the lands are getting barren. Nomads, thus, take their yaks to other grazing lands and cut the yaks’ hair once a year. “We’ve given them a prototype of weaving patterns and are trying to link these products with the market. We are still in the research and development phase regarding whether the products are viable,” shared Shrestha. Another benefit lies in their biodegradability. Once they reach the end of their lifecycle, they decompose naturally, leaving behind nitrogen that nourishes the soil. This exemplifies a circular economy, where materials are used, reused and ultimately returned to the earth.

Along with these products the youth are coming up with innovative ideas to reduce, recycle and reuse products like plastics. Milan Bohara and Sashi Kiran Thapa are challenging the conventional perception of plastic as a problem, recognising it as a valuable resource instead. Through Kleanit Upcyclers they’ve been exploring ingenious solutions to address the plastic waste crisis through cutting-edge technology. They have developed hard covers of notebooks by recycling plastic waste. “Our mission is not merely to present sustainable living as a choice but to make it an inviting and embraced lifestyle, ensuring a healthier and happier future for generations to come,” they stated.

Youth are also making people aware of behavioural changes that are required for cleaner and smarter cities. “People in Kathmandu travel 4.5 kilometres on an average a day and they are using different modes of transportation when they could have easily walked or cycled,” said Suman Rai, General Secretary of Nepal Cycle Society.

Nepal Cycle Society has been making people aware and convincing them for behavioural change and are also lobbying for proper policies to promote cycles. “If we use cycles and mass transport, air and sound pollution will reduce significantly and the cleanliness and beauty of cities will also be enhanced,” he stated, adding, “Road accidents also can be minimised.”

Rai and his team go to schools, colleges and communities and interact with students, teachers and community folks and conduct campaigns by bringing stakeholders such as urban planners, transport specialists, social activists and researchers. They have networks of sustainable cycle eco-club, which carry out different activities such as tree plantation, cleanliness and community fitness (open gym), among others, along with promoting cycle sharing. As per the national census of 2021, around 35.2% of the households own cycles.

Rai shared that policy makers are not sensible towards promoting cycles as a mode of transport in cities, otherwise, the government would have built basic infrastructure such as cycle lanes, cycle parking lots with locker facilities and washrooms. He suggested the government to announce cycling incentives in a similar way like civil servants are provided fuel allowance for using vehicles.

The youth are also helping the communities to embrace entrepreneurship through reuse and recycle of household materials. British Council Nepal along with its partners are promoting such enterprising youth with astounding ideas with innovative grants, according to Saurav Dhakal, Founder of Story Cycle.

Dhakal explained, “Innovation allows us to scale production of traditional products. We then rebrand and tell their stories, capturing the attention of national and international buyers. Even our betel leaf plates are available on Amazon, though currently misattributed to another country. Social media and other platforms offer producers a chance to directly market their creations, explain their innovative process, and share the significance of these products.”
Dhakal further shared that under the theme of ‘creative green economy’, various organisations and platforms are connected for research and development, incubation and mentoring, academic course designing and youth with amazing ideas are connected to translate the ideas into action, which is really a great contribution of youth in climate action.

Priyanka Shukla, founder of Kattran in Nepalgunj, empowers local communities in textile recycling and reuse. “We possess the skills to recycle and reuse old fabrics, but they often get discarded,” she explains. “By using soft skills like knitting and embroidery, we can transform old textiles into beautiful new materials.” This not only reduces household expenses but also combats environmental pollution. During summer breaks, Kattran offers training to adults on textile recycling and creating usable products for local trade.

Local producers with local raw materials are moving forward to reposition the production cycle in the country through innovations in products being produced by utilising their traditional skills. Market opportunities should be enhanced with the support of all stakeholders to promote nature-based environmentally sustainable businesses and make them viable.

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