Handicrafts contribute to significant macro-economic indicators of employment, export earnings and therefore to the GDP statistics of the Indian economy. According to the Economic Survey of India 2012-13, the handicrafts industry provided employment to around 68.86 lakh artisans.
The traditional acumen and talents of local people inhabiting the peripheral geographies of India reveals intriguing insights about artisans engaged in arts & crafts. Their inherent expertise when it comes to amalgamating the cultural & occupational legacy of handcrafting with limited and locally available resources and skills, hence, portraying their outstanding agility and discernment.
The exquisite products and other forest crafts carved out of bamboo, jute, chhind and sheeshal by the tribals of Madhya Pradesh have created a niche for themselves on the National map of handicrafts of India. Boat shaped table lamps, bamboo peacocks with resplendent colour paints, motifs embossed on bamboo vases and frames, modern lap top bags and stationary utilities, delicate sequins work on sheeshal/jute speak for their ethnic and authentic quotients while satisfying the creative faculties of urban shoppers, tourists and consumers.
These ethnic handmade products & furnishings are designed and produced by Self Help Groups (SHGs), artisan groups and rural poor along with the support of different government schemes promoting sustainable livelihoods all across the country thereby, contributing volumes to their existing entrepreneurial & aesthetic expertise.
Endowed in abundance with finesse and deftness, some farmer cum artisans from Madhya Pradesh in addition to producing a mélange of product baskets - also specialize in packaging rare nutritious minor millets such as kodo, kutki; jeera shankar/chinnaur fragrant rice varieties; organic papads, laddoos, namkeen & jams and brand those under the names of their own SHGs/groups thereby stressing on creating brand identities and the importance of invoking 'recall values'.
Most men and women actively involved in collection of Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFPs) from the jungles of Satpura also package, brand and market freshly picked lemon grass leaves, herbal forest tea concoctions made of arjuna, kevati and anantamul leaves and barks. Thus by producing, packaging and promoting organic foods the farmer cum artisans - recognize the insatiable appetite of the farm to folk yearnings of urban consumers.
During my field explorations one of the most intriguing aspects which I encountered was not just this mysterious invisible hand behind the forest bounty being classified into different product utility baskets but the inherent 4Ps (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) of marketing - artisans and farmers exercised in their day to day chores. For instance, faced with multiple resource constraints - while being largely dependent on agriculture the artisan's exercise and practice skills of marketing and sales in order to earn maximum economic returns from the labour intensive handcrafting. Aspects related to pricing of these products is demand driven and so is the branding which artisans undertake skillfully with the assistance from government programmes such as the Swarnajayanti Grameen Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) and National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM).Additionally, the local demand for handicrafts in rural areas is restricted to the local haats, bazaars or melas. The visibility to the urban customer of arts and crafts from remote areas is thus limited. Yet, it is primarily this lack of formal market linkages and limited urban consumer exposure in the production heartlands - that strengthen an artisan's dexterity to deal in production with great zeal and passion while deriving incomes. These insights further corroborate to their natural business flair & managerial wisdoms.
In this light therefore, it is imperative to strengthen the existing market linkages and accessibility options to these artisans who are usually marred by such constraints, accessibility deficit and lack of raw materials. International marketing platforms, e commerce driven initiatives, brand promotions are some marketing interventions that need to evolve for livelihoods creation for SHGs and artisans in remote hinterlands. Handicrafts demand forecasting, incentive creation, design curriculums, integrated development of craft clusters for artisans and cross cultural domestic and international exposure visits are other important capacity development linkages. Several efforts in this area have been undertaken by the central and state governments, district administrations and NGOs in order to promote arts and crafts industry of India thereby providing a necessary impetus for promoting and preserving the rich cultural capital of India.
Additionally, the proposed second phase of the census of handicrafts artisans is a welcome step as it would maximize the impact of welfare and promotional schemes for artisans all across the country especially when the global demand for handicrafts is on the rise. This would also minimize the errors of economic targeting and universalize the impact of programmes designed for honing the indigenous talents of India.
Swasti Pachauri is a PMRDF working in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The views expressed in this article are her personal.