Sunday Sep 25, 2022
Sunday Sep 25, 2022

Handicraft sector struggling for survival

Traders fear to lose everything if business doesn't step up

2022 Feb 11, 8:25,
"18th Handicraft Trade Fair", Photo: Yamini Bantawa

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a havoc for handicrafts businesses. Travel restrictions around the world has created problems for craftsmen and traders to import raw materials and export finished goods. Businesses had slowly begun to prosper after the second wave of the virus, however the third wave outbreak destroyed all progress made.

According to the Federation of Handicrafts Association of Nepal, trading of handicrafts inclined by 19% at the end of the 2077/78 fiscal year. However it has only declined this year. Traditional handicrafts such as Thanka, religious statues, wood carvings, etc. have not been exported much. Sales of contemporary handicrafts, such as goods made of felt, fibre and other natural fabrics haven’t been affected much. “The slight inclination seen in terms of trade of handicrafts is based on the export of contemporary handicrafts and oils", says Rishiraj Subedi, Director of FHAN. 

Lack of proper raw materials and manpower has affected the production of cultural handicrafts severely. The rate of production of handicrafts like religious statues, Thanka art, etc has also decreased. “Handicrafts like these represent our cultural heritage. We weren’t able to market these goods properly due to the pandemic causing them to remain in stock instead of being sold", says Subedi.

"18th Handicraft Trade Fair", Photo: Yamini Bantawa
"18th Handicraft Trade Fair", Photo: Yamini Bantawa

Every year, Nepal exports handicraft goods to almost 80 countries around the world including USA, Japan, India, and China along with several European countries. A majority of Nepali handicrafts are exporter to China. However, due to travel restrictions, any trade made had be done by air. “Trading by air is every expensive. Often times I have to use my own money as my business isn’t earning enough right now", says Mani Shakya, owner of Laxmi Handicrafts. Banks increasing their rate of interest has only added more to their woes. “Loans is no longer an option for me", says Shakya. “I fear I’ll lose everything if business doesn’t step up soon", he adds.

Shakya is one of many handicraft artists and traders who are struggling to even exist in the market. Many handicraft shops closed down permanently due to the pandemic. People who had been in business for decades had to change their profession to fend for their families. “It is very sad to see such talented artists struggling to survive and being forced into a different profession. But there isn’t much we can do until the pandemic ends", says Subedi.

Lack of business, price hikes on raw materials, and lockdown restrictions have resulted in the increment of the cost of handicraft goods. However, the handicrafts is pushing away any possible business for these shops. “The market value of these products have gone really high. I am afraid to lose clients because of the hike", says Shakya.

FHAN often organizes events, programs and fairs to promote Nepali handicrafts and its makers in the global market. The last trade fair was held in November, 2021 at Hyatt Regency Hotel, Boudha. The federation does not have anything planned for the promotion of handicrafts right now due to the lockdown restrictions. “We will make a 3-year strategic plan with new board members after our election”, says Subedi. The election has also been postponed due to the pandemic.

Subedi believes that a major change in export of handicrafts can only be seen with the help of the government. He focuses on the importance of promoting Nepali handicrafts in the global market as it also provides employment opportunities to people. “If the government focuses more on exportation of goods rather than importing only, it would be a great help to revive handicraft businesses", he says. “We also require proper rules and protocols that are more export-friendly”, he adds.


covid-19 pandemic Handicrafts businesses business travel restrictions craftsmen Traders Raw Materials second wave virus fabrics FHAN European countries Hyatt Regency Hotel
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