Fewer takers for Lokta paper

Kathmandu, August 21:

Nepali handmade paper is a roaring success abroad but the demand for it at the domestic market level seems to be decreasing over the recent past years.

Earlier, Nepali handmade paper used to be compulsory for government legal correspondence but it has almost vanished from the government offices. Ironically, despite being a hot cake internationally of the best quality and having its own identity it has been struggling to retain its foothold in the country’s government offices of late.

“Before 1998, property ownership certificates prepared by the Ministry of Land Reforms, passports and certificates of citizenship issued by the Home Ministry used to be made from handmade paper, but now paper for these purposes is imported from abroad,” said Dr Milan Dev Bhattarai, president of the Handmade Paper Association.

Bhattarai rued, “Instead of using Nepali handmade paper, white paper and ivory paper for preparing property ownership certificates and passports, respectively, are imported.”

According to data provided by HANDPASS, it is estimated that the Lokta plant from which the raw material for handmade paper is gleaned takes approximately six years to mature. Also, over-harvesting and use of improper techniques do not allow sufficient time for the plants to recoup.

Bhattarai said HANDPASS plans to provide training to hilly region people involved in this sector in the techniques of Lokta farming and preparation of handmade paper. Talking about the training, he said, “We are trying to approach the European Union for holding workshops and will make a final decision about the project after the confirmation.”

Though the Lokta plant paper has various special features as it is made from high altitude plants, has enormous strength, is amazingly durable, insect resistant and water resistant to a great extent and has a pebbled, grainy look, it is losing its grip over the local market.

Bhattarai said that though the demand in the local market was dwindling, the paper is registered as an international brand for high quality called NepaLokta brand in the European Union. He regretted that the government was not interested in supporting the export of handmade paper to the international market even though the paper has carved a niche for itself solely on the strength of its quality and unique identity.

Recent data from FHAN reveal that it exported goods worth Rs 2.71 billion in 2006-07 but exports fell to Rs 2.68 billion in 2007-08, a decrease by one per cent. Textiles contributed 55 per cent and non-textile products registered 45 per cent of the total export.

Handmade paper exports too dipped by two per cent to Rs 236 million. According to Bhattarai,

“The loss seen in the export of handmade paper is not actually in the volume as that has not decreased. It is due to the fluctuations in the US dollar.”