A way with waste

August 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Related Interests

A village in southern Thailand makes natural dyes using fallen leaves and discarded fruit skin.

Fallen leaves and fruit skin have no use for city people, but a group of villagers in Khiriwong, Nakhon Si Thammarat, seem to have found a way with the waste which they use to produce natural dyes. These dyes, created with local ingenuity and used for colouring clothes, blouses and accessories, have earned Tambon Kamlon, of which the village is part, a name and have been accorded OTOP (one tambon, one product) rating. “We aim to make the most use of materials naturally available in our community,” said Aree Khunthon, leader of a housewife group which has been producing natural dyes for 14 years. The orchards of Khiriwong yield mangosteen, durian, rambutan, garcinia (som khaek), longon, mango, parkia (sataw) and other plants depending on time of year, a factor helped by good weather and fresh air that, according to the Pollution Control Department, is among the cleanest measured in the country. The village sits at the foot of Khao Luang, the highest mountain in southern Thailand. But selling fruit alone wasn’t enough to make a living, recalled Aree of the years before her group embarked on a programme to produce natural dyes to supplement their meagre income.

Back then the average earning of a family was 10,000-30,000 baht earned between August and October, while it sat idled for the rest of the year. Following a series of natural disasters starting with flooding in 1975 and 1988 and drought in 1996, the villagers decided to switch to something that would allow them stable and sustained income, and where they wouldn’t have to rely soely on the weather. After several rounds of debate and discussion, they settled on something that would make use of local ingenuity, using up to 80% of raw materials available locally and be environmentally friendly, explained Aree. For start-up capital, the village received 25,000 baht from the Komol Keemthong Foundation. “Instead of using plastic ropes to create patterns on cloth, we use bamboo sticks, which come handy when making small patterns such as flowers and leaves, and they can also be reused,” she said.

The cloth is put in a basin containing liquid dyes produced from natural materials. The dyes themselves are made by boiling the leaves or fruit in huge enamel basins for a whole day. Dead mangosteen leaves give off orange colour while fresh ones produce pink shade; bangal almond produces yellowish-green shade; parkia pods give off grey colour; parkia pods boiled with rambutan skins produce dark grey hue; core of jackfruit produces yellow colour; leaves of peka (Oroxylum indicum) olive green; and seeds of jiringa ( nieng) brown colour. Each piece of cloth is dyed at least three times to ensure colour does not run. The raw materials used to make the dyes are later dried to be used as cooking fuel. Currently there are 33 families joining the programme, each earning between 3,000 to 7,000 baht a month selling cotton shirts, blouses, pants, tablecloths, bed cover sheets, pillow cases, hats, key chains and bags. “We will keep experimenting trying to use natural materials to explore new dyes and create fresh designs,” said Aree, “to ensure the products we make remain unique to our village.” Located in Lan Saka district, the village of Khiriwong, which was rated the ‘‘Best Community Attraction’’ at the Thailand Tourism Awards in 1998, offers homestay and trekking tours to Khao Luang National Park. Visitors can buy homemade mangosteen wine, soap made from mangosteen skins and various herbs, and preserved durian. August to October is high fruit season. To get to the village, take a minibus from Talat Yao in Muang district, available between 7am-4pm.Alternatively, you can take Highway 4016 from town and drive onto Highway 4015 to Lan Saka, a distance of about 26 kilometres. The village is at Kilometre 20 marker to your right.

Published: 20/08/2009 at 12:00 AM
Bangkok Post Newspaper section: Horizons

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