Handicraft is about processing materials by hand with hand tools. The result can be helpful or decorative things. The materials used in this process are natural, industrially processed or maybe recycled. The models of the product are ancient, revised traditional or fashionable.
Before industrial development, the handicrafts industry was a potential economic advantage for the country. In recent years, the importance of handicrafts has surged due to their cultural and financial values. The small scale industries – including handicrafts can play a major role in the development of the economy of both the developed and the developing countries. The 90-95% of the total industrial products of the world is produced in small workshops run by less than 100 people.
The Indian handicraft industry is one of the largest employment generators and accounts for a significant share in the country’s exports. The industry is fragmented and unorganised with more than seveb million regional artisans and more than 67,000 exporters promoting regional art and craftsmanship in the domestic and global markets.
The total export of handicrafts from India is expected to nearly double to $2.7 billion in FY 2015-16 and is expected to increase further to $3.8 billion by FY 2020-21. In 2015-16, Indian handicrafts export stood at $4.5 billion which is up by approximately 15.4% of the previous year’s exports. Exports of Indian handicrafts have increased at around 16.4% since the last five years.
However, it can be said that the Indian handicraft industry is altogether a sweet tale. It has its own drawbacks. The Hindu talked about a recently published report titled ‘Crafting a Livelihood’ released by Dasra in collaboration with The Rothschild Foundation, which traces the “current craft lands-cape in India”. With a meagre 2% share in the global handicrafts market, India definitely has a tremendous scope for growth in this sector. According to the report, the current scenario of Indian handicraft industry is marked by a loss of demand, dwindling skills and difficulty in catering to new markets and rural artisans moving to urban areas looking for often low, unskilled employment. Over the past 35 years, the number of artisans has decreased by more than 30%. This fact highlights the requirement to reinvest in artisans in order to safeguard history, culture, and an important source of livelihood.
To add impetus to this industry, NGOs play a key role. Non-profits such as Dastkar work towards upskilling artisans and showcasing their products through fairs. Private players such as Indian Roots and Jaypore provide the much needed market linkage for Indian handicraft and handloom. Through its initiatives and schemes, the government influences the entire value chain which includes raw material sourcing, financing and maximum wages among other critical issues.
According to the Hindu, despite the fact that the handicraft industry is fragmented and unorganised, the Indian handicraft industry employs 6 to 7 million regional artisans and has more than 67,000 exporters engaged in promoting its wares in domestic and foreign markets
Online platforms like Direct Create, which is an online community of artists, artisans, makers, buyers and designers are involved in the promotion of exclusive handmade creations. The founder of Direct Create, Sheela Lunkad says, “In a way I feel no traditional craft is really dying. What’s missing is market linkage, design interpretation and communication with people who really want to buy.”
Sheela Lunkad identifies the problems with the handicrafts industry and also offers solutions. She says, “We have to be able invest time and lots of energy into creating a handicraft industry that is not reduced to making just tacky souvenirs. We also have to look at good design. The story of the craftsman is missing from the handicraft, which is why this sector is losing patronage in India.”
But handicrafts also need a steady generational transferring of skills, which has slowed, or in some cases, completely disappeared in India’s artisanal communities. “Not being able to cultivate the artistic capability of human beings and putting them into a mechanised employment is a disaster for humanity,” says Lunkad. “The artist needs to take pride in his craft, earn a decent living and feel that he has utilised his creative energy. That is something that we as citizens and groups of people can make possible easily.”
There is also a growing demand for Indian handicraft products in China. “China has been known in the world to be a handicrafts producing country. So far, it has been giving tough competition to the Indian handicraft industry. However, due to large-scale mechanisation, there is a low unit value for Chinese products and hand work is done only for finishing. This is where the demand for Indian products come in,” Arvind Vadhera, Chairman, EPCH, said on the sidelines of an event.
He said Indian products offered uniqueness in craftsmanship, finish and presentation. Handicraft exports to China in 2008-09 stood at Rs. 418.33 crore. It rose to Rs. 945.72 crore during 2010 -11, registering a 94.07% growth. The products exported to China included metal craft, hand printed textile, scarves, fashion jewellery, art ware and wood craft products among others.
Today, Indian handicraft industry is the second largest employment creating sector in the country. The Indian handicraft industry has seen a wonderful growth of 15% in a decade. The Indian handicrafts industry is flourishing at a faster pace with turnover from $1.2 million to $1.9 million in the last decade. Handicrafts exports in the global market are increasing with each passing day with annual growth rate of more that 15% in 10 years time. With the increasing turnover of handicrafts exports turnover, this sector has created around 20 lakh new job opportunities as well.
According to Rina Soonawal Kouli, Editor-in-chief, YOJNA, though handicrafts sector in India is more than Rs. 10,000 crore industry and provides employment to about 70 million people, its share in the global market is negligible- not even 2% of the world export trade of about US$ 230 billion.
The sector is already relying on countries like the US, UK, Germany, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Italy- which are the major handicraft exports destinations for India but demands in these countries have either reached a saturation point or it is decreasing. The required emphasisis not laid to the global emerging markets mainly Latin American, CIS, Australia and African countries that have shown a positive growth rate in the past one decade.
So much so, if one compares India’s handicrafts exports with small countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka- the situation is no encouraging. Countries like China, which has far less variety and cultural richness, are exporting more than double of what India is trading in the international market. According to a rough estimate, China’s share would continue to grow exponentially due to its high production capacity and low labour cost.
If experts of the industry are to be believed, India has tremendous scope and opportunity to become world’s leading player in the handicraft sector. “We have everything which is needed for handicraft. Low cost labour, cultural heritage, highly skilled craftsmen, rich diversity and a large number of traditional arts-only a part of which is exposed to the government. Need of the hour is to promote the virgin arts, explore new areas and their arts and show it to the world, rest the market would do itself”, says Navaratan Samadaria- flag bearer of Indian handicrafts industry who chaired the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) for more than a decade and was instrumental in starting world’s one of the largest handicraft B2B fair in India in the 1990s.