EDITORIAL: Leg-up for handicrafts

Handicraft industry can generate jobs and encourage youths to explore livelihoods options within Nepal

The South Asian Festival on Handicrafts concluded on Sunday in the Capital, with organisers saying the event provided a good platform to explore the possibilities of giving a fillip to handicraft export. The three-day handicraft fair was organised by the Poverty Alleviation Fund with an aim to identify the opportunities and challenges faced by traditional handicraft business in the competitive global market. The event was successful in terms of exploring the possibilities of revival and market of handicrafts and the entire craftsmanship in Nepal and the South Asian region. Currently, export of handicraft products accounts for only seven per cent of the country’s total exports. Identifying more craftsmen and their handicrafts and giving them a leg-up through appropriate policies could help the country earn foreign currency through the export of these products. This simultaneously can support the handicraft producers in terms of their economical and social uplift.

Some of Nepal’s handicraft products include pashmina and dhaka products; woolen goods; felt and silk products and cotton, hemp and alloy goods. Silver jewellery; metal craft; handmade paper products; wood craft,   bone and horn products;   ceramics products;  leather goods;   incense, paubha (thanka);  Mithila art;  beads items;  bamboo products, dhakiyas (baskets made of a certain type of wicker); and khukuris are some of the non-textile handicraft products of Nepal. But Nepal has not been able to explore the export potentialities of these products. Nepal’s handicraft exports have seen rise and fall over the years. In the fiscal year 2016/17, handicrafts worth Rs. 4.8 billion were exported to different countries, the Federation of Handicraft Association of Nepal said in July last year, indicating a growth compared to the previous fiscal year. The annual growth in the export of handicraft products, according to Commerce Secretary Chandra Kumar Ghimire, is three percent, which is but tepid.

The first thing that can be done at the government level is promoting handicrafts by identifying the products and bringing together the craftsmen and craftswomen. Development of handicraft industry can generate jobs and encourage the youths to explore livelihoods options within Nepal, thereby keeping a huge chunk of human resource that is flying abroad in search of jobs in the country. This ultimately contributes to overall economy of the country. Nepali handicrafts are currently exported to around 80 countries around the world. The major importers of Nepal’s handicraft products are the United States, the United Kingdom, China, India, Japan and Germany among others. Different types of handicraft products have been included in the list of those 66 items that have been given duty-free access to the US. Nepal can exploit this opportunity to build the country’s handicraft industry. Nepal’s handicraft production is overseen by the Department of Cottage and Small Industry. But entrepreneurs have often expressed their resentment at lack of attention paid to the handicraft industry. Handicrafts are directly linked to culture, tradition and religion of people of a country. Nepal as a diverse country has multi-cultural people, and preserving and promoting their handicrafts could also help in establishing the country’s identity in the international arena.

Devise clear policy

Local level representatives are bewildered about how to spend the budget allocated to the local level units even though it has been eight months since their elections. This all happened due to lack of clear policy and guidelines on the ways to spend the budget earmarked by the Finance Ministry. The Local Development Ministry is the line ministry to facilitate the local level units. It is noted that the Finance Ministry has already released a budget of Rs 150 billion in two tranches.

At a function held in Dhangadhi Sunday, local level representatives aired their frustration over the concerned line ministry’s lackluster approach on utilising the budget. They said they were clueless about how to prepare plans and allocate budget, especially for agriculture, health and education. The concerns raised by the local level elected representatives are genuine. The Local Development Ministry should have given training to the elected officials much earlier about the processes of spending the budget shortly after the elections. The budget allocated by the Finance Ministry will remain unutilised if they do not get training and policy guidelines.