Indian handicraft clusters need to be developed into sourcing hub for the world

New Delhi, Sept 17 (KNN)   Although the Indian handicraft tradition is as diverse as the cultural diversity of the country and has a large production base, its market at an international level remains unexplored, owing to which its share in the world handicraft exports is less than two per cent.

To enable the Indian handicraft exporting community to develop and upgrade itself so it can take a lead in the world market, a two day international seminar on promotion of Indian handicrafts and craft exchange programme began here today.

The event, the first of its kind, was organised by the Office of Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) and National Centre for Design and Product Development (NCDPD).

Speaking at the inaugural function, Minister of State for Textiles, Panabaaka Lakshmi acknowledged the fact that the Indian handicrafts sector which represented the cultural, religious and traditional heritage contributed greatly to the Indian economy, even as it generated significant employment, foreign exchange and promoted tourism.

“The Handicrafts Exchange Programme organised to promote Indian exports is a step in the right direction,” she said adding that it provided a unique opportunity for Indian artisans to improve the use of technology, design and innovation and develop market linkages; so as to enhance the demand for Indian handicrafts.

In his address, Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) SS Gupta said that handicrafts had transitioned from being simply decorative items to lifestyle and utility products.
He highlighted the strength of Indian handicrafts that were exquisitely handcrafted, eco-friendly, ethnic, traditional with the use of various raw materials; each region having its own specific crafts that were passed on through the generations.

However, he said that the sector faced enormous challenges with rising costs of labour and raw materials.  Also, cheap mechanised products were a threat to handicrafts.  Pointing to the need to device ways to sustain the industry and make it economically viable, he said constant inputs were required in the form on innovation design, technology upgradation, improved tools and raw materials.

The event saw the participation of eight international experts from China, Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and Ireland who were invited to interact with the industry.  The experts are expected to share their success stories, discuss areas of mutual cooperation and transfer of techniques. 

Representatives of the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) headed by Head of Faculty of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology Paschal M Meehan had earlier visited various handicraft clusters in India and conducted a technology mapping of Indian handicrafts.  Their report called for targeted training, improved technology and enterprise development to improve the sector.  Their recommendations include technology incubation centres, technology upgradation, funding support and creating ‘Brand India.’

In his presentation, Executive Director, EXIM Bank, David Rasquinha talked about the banks initiates towards MSMEs and the handicraft sector.

We partner with like-minded institutions to help the handicrafts sector to infuse ancient crafts with modernity.  We want to make crafts relevant and acceptable today, he said.
The event was brought to life with live demonstrations of craft skills and techniques of artisans from China, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and India.

It enabled close interaction between craft persons of other countries on techniques and methods adopted for production, design, design development, packaging and market linkages.

The two day programme was divided into four technical sessions – Technology knowledge sharing and dissemination; customer oriented design and product development; skills enhancement towards competitiveness in the international market; and market linkage – national and international.

Handicraft exports contribute significantly to the Indian economy, growing at a steady average of 15 per cent per annum during the last few decades.  During the last fiscal, handicraft export amounted to Rs 17,970.12 crore. 

Further, handicrafts production in India is estimated to be worth around USD 5600 million out of which exports amount to USD 3304 million, the balance USD 2300 million consumed domestically.  This goes to show that there is surplus available for export.

China has taken the lead in handicrafts exports in the world market, its share estimated to be around 30 per cent of the world market.  Other Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines also have substantial shares.  Significantly, handicrafts production in most of those countries is mechanised and is based on production clusters which have been developed on the basis of focus products for focused markets.

In India however, handicrafts are still handcrafted and machines are merely used for finishing purposes.  Production clusters are based on availability of local raw material, local craftsmanship and skills.

It is expected that local artisans, during the event, will learn from the experience of countries who have taken a lead in the world market.