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Traditional straw mats boost income for villagers in Khammuan

Buckling under the weight of two heavy loads of straw balanced on her shoulders, Ms Muan Vannalath hurries to put her load down as she arrives home.
Weaving straw mats is a long-held tradition in Laos, with the skill being passed down from generation to generation.
Beungsantheung is a village in Nongbok district, Khammuan province, and has an abundance of straw. About 20 families in the village use this natural material to weave mats as an extra source of income.
While mat weaving has provided a sustainable livelihood for local families, Ms Muan says the continuation of this traditional craft faces some challenges.

Beungsantheung villagers have been weaving straw mats for hundreds of years.

Marketing is the first problem. Weavers don’t have the marketing ability to be able to sell the number of the mats they would like.
“Our community has enough straw and people, so if the product is promoted, we believe we can sell more mats. It can then become the main occupation of the weavers, creating a sustainable income for them,” said Ms Muan.
The second challenge is that customers prefer to buy plastic mats imported from neighbouring countries as they are attracted to the foreign designs and colours.
Ms Muan says weavers would greatly benefit from training sessions on how to improve the quality and pattern of their straw mats so they could compete with foreign products. In addition, continuous promotion of the traditional products may encourage people who like using plastic mats to change their preference to straw mats which are more environmentally friendly.
The mats cost between 40,000 kip and 100,000 kip depending on size.
For hundreds of years, straw mats have been associated with Beungsantheung village. In the past, people made the mats within their families and sold them in nearby markets.
Because of the competition and the costs involved in taking them to markets, they are sometimes forced to sell them for less than it cost to make the mats.
Now everything is changing. Vendors come to buy the mats directly in the village to sell in Khammuan and neighbouring provinces, saving villagers the money and time it takes to travel to other provinces.
Beungsantheung inhabitants are mostly farmers, so making the mats is a second form of income for them. For a few families however it is their main livelihood.
“We make the mats after we have finished our farm work,” said 63-year-old Ms Muan. She said that sometimes several vendors come to buy the mats at the same time. This benefits the villagers, who are able to raise the price of their products because of the competition among vendors.
Villagers use the money they make to buy food and school uniforms for their children.
The mats are typically woven using five colours. The light brown is the natural colour, while the red, blue, purple and green are dyes.
After retrieving it from a pond, the straw has to be dried for at least two days before it is ready to weave.The mats sell particularly well from November to June, as this is the dry season when most other people don’t have sufficient supplies of the raw material to make any mats.
Ms Muan first learnt how to weave from her parents.
“Today, I’m happy that my skills in weaving mats can help my family to have a sustainable income,” she said.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update November 11 , 2017 )

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