Allo is tall, stout and erect herb which is also known as Himalayan nettle. There are numerous slender, stinging hairs on its aerial part. Allo, the fibre plant is known as nettle plant English speaking world. Botanical name of Allo or the Giant Himalayan nettle is Girardiniadiversifolia.
Giant Himalayan Nettle grows profusely in the middle hills of Nepal at altitudes of 1100 meter 2000 above sea level in shaded wild settings. Allo plants have 3 layers or parts in it. Outer part is bark, inner part is stem and in between those two is fibre. Its bark is removed and peeled after cutting the plant.
There are 13 types of Allo available in Nepal. Three of them locally called Bade Chalku, Chhade Chalku and Chalku – are the best ones. Allo is a self-cultivated natural plant harvested and processed is done 43 districts in Nepal.
The most suitable season for harvesting the Allo plant is from August to December. The plant harvested in this period gives a white and good quality fibre.
This plant has been used in the middle hills of Nepal for centuries for extracting fibres and turning them into clothing, as well as bags and sacks for various uses around the home and farm. The fibre is a hollow fibre and bears great features, that it is cool in summer and warm in winter. The cloths made by Allo are waterproof, durable and can be worn throughout the year. It gives lightweight feel and these have an ecological advantage as they are renewable and biodegradable. Moreover, Nettle fabric gets better after each laundering and becomes finer and luxurious after each use.
The stingy nature of Allo plant discourages local communities form harvesting if they do use gloves. But mostly they only piece of a cloth to protect their hands. If one happens to touch the plant, the person may get itches. It takes around 6 hours get relieved from itching. So that community prefers harvesting Allo plant during winter season, when Allo stinging force is reduces by cold.
Collection of Allo shrubs, extraction of fibres, retting, separation of fibres, spinning and weaving are the series of process from collection of Allo from its natural setting to produce finished items.
The entire process of extraction followed by the social groups appears to be a primitive and simple process but a painful task.The men forage the area at the time the of October – November and harvest the Allo shrubs.The shrubs are selected on the basis of the well-developed stout stem from which the bark bearing the fibres are later ripped off. Then taken for extraction of fibres
Usally men strip them of their bark after the shrubs are brought down, with the help of a sickle or in some cases, peeling them with bare hands and laying them in the sun for 3 – 4 days to dry. It is the turn of women folk next, boiling the bark in water containing ash for about three hours, depending on the amount of fibre. The ash is mean to make the bark soft and easier to separate the fibre individually. Thirdly, retting is done. Retting is the main challenge faced during the processing of best plants for the production of long fibre. The traditional methods for separating the long best fibres are by dew and water retting. Depending on the water temperature and mineral content, high-quality fibres are obtained through a water retting process that takes 14 to 28 days to degrade.
After finishing the three steps of processing activities, separation of fibres is worked out. After this, the retted stalks are dried in open air after which it is ready to use. The fibre is then mixed with crushed limestone to make it a little greasy and easier to handle. The fibres obtained from these processes, however, may not be sufficiently separated from each other and or may have characteristics that do not always permit appropriate use in the textile industry.
The long fibre are then separated from the short ones and the remaining woody material removed by a process termed as hackling before the fibre is ready for being spun.
A charkha (a wooden spinning wheel) is usually used for spinning yarn. In some cases, the fibre is rolled around the waist and the free end is fastened between teeth. One hand rapidly rolls down the fibre through the teeth, acting to the spinner as a filter-on. The fitness of the yarn depends largely on the spinner’s fibre quality and ability.
Experts and professional say that 4 million kilo of Allo is harvested in Nepal annually. Roughly 3 kg of Allo is used to produce 1 kg of fibre. The government has been collecting revenue on Allo at this basis.
In the recent years an easier method has been introduced in the Allo industry. The simplified technology has been developed by using four machines – Thatcher machine, Opener machine, filter machine and Opening machine – in a series to produce fine All yarn. The machines produce Allo yarn skipping all traditional process and give finer yarns in increased weightage than that of doing by traditional processes.
Two hundred Allo industries had invested 9 million rupees to establish Udyogi Promotion Group Ltd. to modernise and simplify the Allo yarn-making process. The joint initiative had collaborated with Reliance Spinning Mills for producing Allo yarn with the modernised method introduced by Mr. Ganesh Aedi who is vice president of National Allo Producers Association and a serious Allo entrepreneur as well. According to Mr. Aedi, the modern process does not need much labour to involve, no chemical to be used and no stream water to use and so many other labour and cost saving benefits.
The modernised technology gives 68% of fibre and that makes 60% of fine yarn from the raw material while traditional method gives 45% of fibre and that makes 42% of yarn, mentioned.
Allo fibre is normally made of 37 micron. To produce soft and fine material for easy wearing or uses Allo fibre is blended with wool, silk or cotton at a suitable ratio.
There are 147 private companies actively processing and producing different products using Allo fibre. So as, about 1500 households harvest and process Allo fibre in a traditional method operating as cottage industries.
So far, 70% Allo yarn produced are used for carpet weaving and 20% for cloth materials making. Rest of 10% is exported as raw yarn.
The Allo business has been doubtlessly made a significant contribution to achieving Global Movements such as reducing poverty and hunger, empowering women, enrolling children in school as the ultimate outcome of empowering maternal health. The enterprise promotes environmental sustainability by working with forest user groups to promote environment friendly enterprises.
The latest statics show that Nepal has exported Allo products worth of 1.84 billion rupees to 43 countries including Israel, Australia, India, France, England, USA and some other countries. This is a good share in the export of textiles from Nepal. Also noteworthy is that the entrepreneurs are expecting to increase the export volume to 2.5 billion rupees in a few years to come.
There are some important aspects that the governments (federal government, provincial governments, municipalities and rural municipalities) should take seriously to support Allo trade to extend well. Firstly, Allo should be taken as agricultural product. This has been taken as herbal product. That will simplify Allo collectors and traders in working with government offices. This will also reduce tax rate.
To expand Allo growing area, the governments should soft policy to cooperate entrepreneurs by providing waste forest lands for Allo cultivation. Similarly, the government should consider support investment in modernised Allo processing industries in potential locations at least one in each province. Keeping in view, raw Allo produced in remote places costs more to transport for further processing. So that cultivators and industries cannot work well. In such situation, the government should provide subsidy to share cost of transportation. Moreover, exporting of raw fibre should be discouraged and made mandatory for exporting at value added state.
It is also remarkable that NMB Bank Ltd. is providing credit to the Allo industries up to NRs. 1 million each to 270 industries, which has been a great support to Allo industries. This should be extended widely through the government policies so as other banks and financial institutions will flow investments and credits to support the foreign currency earning industry grow better.
Federation of Nepal Cottage and Small Industries (FNCSI) has been coordinating with government agencies, BFIs and other stakeholders to maintain a better working environment for Allo industries. (By R.P. Narayan)