During the past 25 years, the exports of handicrafts have made a phenomenal growth and during the year 2011-12 they stood at Rs 12,975 crore. In an interview with Hindustan Times, Rakesh Kumar, Chief Executive of the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), talks about the handicrafts exports growth story. Some excerpts:
What were the initial problems in promoting handicrafts exports?
Handicrafts are produced in tiny, cottage and small sector manufacturing units that are scattered across the country, particularly in the interiors. It was difficult to bring them together, make them aware of the exports potential in the world market and techniques involved in marketing besides financing, documentation and procedure. We had to do a lot of spade work through training, seminars, workshops at production centres to educate producers and exporters and to help develop their products as per the demands of the overseas market. Over a period of 25 years, the membership base of the council increased from 35 to more than 7,000. The exports grew from R387 crore to R12,975 crore and the product lines diversified to over 1000 varieties.
What would you describe as the one most important step that provided a boost to exports?
The main step that provided a boost to exports was the setting up and institutionalisation of Indian Handicrafts & Gifts Fair in 1994. This fair enabled the entire exporting community of handicrafts to showcase their strength at one place to the buying community from across the world so that they can see the versatility of the Indian handcraft products in terms of quality, designs, colours, prices, etc. and source the same from under one roof. Additionally, participation in specialised trade shows and exhibition held worldwide was also introduced, strengthened and institutionalised year after year so that the presence of India in the world market was not only known but also that its products could be bought from dedicated centres in various markets.
What was the strategy behind developing a sustained growth in exports?
A comprehensive marketing and production strategy was evolved by us which included aggressive publicity and promotion in the world market, brand image creation, participation in trade fairs and exhibitions, organising contact promotion programme, buyer-seller_meets, folk craft Festivals of India, trade delegations, creation of infrastructural support in India for design development, production and product adaptation besides setting up of common facility centres at production cluster levels, etc. This strategy has paid rich dividends and the exports of handicrafts continued to grow at an average annual growth rate of 15% to 20% per annum.
What is your vision for the future?
The EPCH looks to achieving a larger share in the world market in the decades to come by building capacity, enhancing design and product development at cluster level, creation infrastructure to support production of quality products to suit international requirements and to be aggressive in emerging markets such as Latin America, Central Asia, Africa and Arab world. Great emphasis will also be laid on research and development to produce new product lines.