COVID-19 AND HANDICRAFT SECTOR
The pandemic situation due to Covid-19 that arose around the month of March resulted in the loss in the economy in almost all the countries worldwide with a significant impact on various industries and markets. The initiation of lockdown and the ceasing of daily work in the factories, industries, and sectors immensely influenced them in a negative fashion. Among these, the Handicraft Sector has been dramatically affected.
IMPACT ON HANDICRAFT SECTOR:
The COVID-19 lockdown that resulted in a loss in economy, unemployment, and fear of touch has had a devastating impact on the handicrafts sector as any work that was ‘tinged by human hands’ began to be shunned in dread of the lethal virus spreading. Most of the artisans have been out of work with only 15 out of 40 looms operating. Stocks have accumulated and the sector is facing a severe cash crunch since production has entirely stopped while huge unsold inventories keep getting piled up.
There has been no sale both by exhibitions or by orders. The deficiency of raw materials has appeared in fewer workdays, and overhead costs have risen due to a lack of production and sales. The artisans have no funds to reinvest and thus, are taking neither food for daily consumption nor sufficient savings to meet medical expenses.
Even the craft enterprises and start-ups over the nation that form the necessary bridge between the craftspeople and the customers are encountering challenges to secure their own endurance. The handicraft in India is a huge, important industry and contributes nearly Rs 10,000 crores per year in export earnings. In the last fiscal year, it gained Rs 36, 7898 crores by exports, and Rs 12,678 crore in the domestic market.
However, after the initiation of the lockdown, subsequent earnings have dropped below 30% of their initial incomes with a loss of Rs 8,000 crore.
SUSTAINABILITY IN CURRENT TIMES:
Sustainability refers to the capacity to support a factor at a particular rate or level and the avoidance of the reduction of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. As such, to keep their work going and well sustained, the Handicraft Sector has employed various means of caution to ensure that there is no opportunity or instance for the spread of the COVID-19 virus through contact and contamination.
The work is being continued with apposite social distancing protocols and practices, such as sending materials between units in the production line with minimum and uninterrupted access to raw materials. However, this alone is not enough to curb people’s trepidation and keep supporting the sector. The sector continues to appeal to various organizations, individuals, and platforms to raise money for relief distribution.
One such organization, the Darbar Sahitya Sansad (DSS), has managed to distribute provisions to four hundred artisans. Nevertheless, these four hundred artisans are but half the number of total workers. According to Kedareswar Chaudhury, the CEO of DSS, relief in terms of provisions need to continue until the lockdown is wholly lifted and artisans can resume their work. There is a requirement for capital assistance in the form of allowances or loans with low-interest rates to improve the production, and an instant demand of handholding guide for online marketing, design, and cataloging.
More than ever, the requisite of health insurance and social security for the artisans has increased in recent times. Several organizations have reduced their overhead costs, provided provisions to staff and artisans, and are giving just enough work so that they are able to meet their end’s needs. Numerous campaigns to clear the existing stock are being designed, and mask and PPE kit making jobs have commenced.
PREDICTED IMMEDIATE FUTURE FOR INDIAN HANDICRAFTS:
In the immediate future, with on-going restrictions on large gatherings, travel, and even movement of goods, exhibitions will most likely be out of bounds. Subsequently, the halt on exhibitions will further impact the livelihood of the artisans and workers for the longer-term. It is expected that overall demand, which has been significantly offline so far, will shift online.
Even after the conclusion of the lockdown period, it is believed that it will take a couple more months before people start visiting markets and start buying things like how it was before; it is going to take at least a year before the demand and revenues are normalized. The workers will have to continue their campaigns and odd jobs until the situation is stabilized. A broader approach and innovative thinking maybe what is needed to diminish the deleterious impact on the sector transiently.
Several founders admit that the knowledge of buying craft products requires to change – with more awareness, penetration, and attractive purchase interfaces.
POSITIVE IMPLICATIONS FOR THE HANDICRAFT SECTOR:
With the Handicrafts Sector in terrible distress for the start of the lockdown, many have discerned that the means of the craft market have to change, and ideas about how to move ahead have to be engendered. Amidst the lockdown, exhibitions and selling of handicrafts have ceased. However, with lesser exhibitions, more and more consumers will shift towards online purchases. It gives an opportunity for the artisans to sell their products and inventories online, for both the domestic and international market. We all agree that half the appeal of a craft article is the method, the maker, and the tradition.
The online mode would enable us to present this effectively and creatively, without physically having to transport the artisan and his equipment and tools to the spot. If we can have the maker tell his story, show the material and the technique that transforms his craft in a visually engaging way, it will make up for that lack of touch and sensation felt by the customers. Artisans who do not excel at selling their products in a face-to-face conversation need not worry anymore as only the details and pictures of their crafts would suffice.
All this would result in a partnership with various other sectors and industries such as photography, digital marketing, web designing, and so on, thereby, creating an indigenous network. On the other hand, due to the current situation worldwide, Government standards of a loan for the artisans would be lowered.
The banks have, traditionally, been hesitant in providing loans to the workers due to lack of collateral and high risk of evasion. However, now, with the Government certifying the loan, it should ease the banks’ concern, making it easier for the artisans to avail credit. Loans with the eased restrictions — no collateral, lower interest rates, more extended moratorium — can help the sector sustain itself until the market returns to normal.