January 23: The handicraft business has faced a slump in the wake of the spread of Omicron variant of Covid-19. The business was increasing despite lots of ups and downs in the last two years until the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Trade has slowed down due to the spread of the virus that caused problems in exporting goods to foreign countries. Export of handicraft items has been limited to 30 percent due to increasing rate of infection in different countries including Nepal.
President of the Federation of Handicraft Association of Nepal, Surendra Bhai Shakya, said that the main reasons for the decline in exports were declining demand from foreign countries and increasing cargo fares.
According to him, the cargo fare has increased up to five times at present. It has become more difficult for traders to export goods due to increased fares when business is yet to pick up the momentum.
There are more than 1,000 handicraft shops in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur alone, according to the federation. Lately, all these stores have been affected by the Omicron virus.
As the handicraft business is directly connected with the tourism sector, the trade of handicraft items decreases as soon as the number of tourists coming to Nepal decreases. At present, even the tourism business has not been showing any development due to which the handicraft business is also facing problems.
About 30 percent of handicraft shops in Thamel, Asan, New Road and Basantapur areas of Kathmandu have been closed since the onset of the pandemic in Nepal, said President Shakya.
According to the Federation, handicraft items worth Rs 6 billion are sold in Nepal's domestic market annually. However, the major markets for Nepali handicrafts are the United States, China and other European countries. Nepal exports handicraft products worth Rs 11 to 15 billion annually to these countries. About 1.1 million people including traders, entrepreneurs and workers are associated with this sector.
However, the federation says the annual turnover has not been even 5 billion for the past two years and more than 40 percent of the people have lost their jobs due to the impact of the pandemic.
Shakya emphasized on the need to increase the use and consumption of Nepali handicraft materials within the country itself as the business has slowed down due to the pandemic. He expressed the belief that it would be really convenient for the handicraft business even if only 30 percent of the 42 types of handicraft products produced in Nepal could be consumed within the country.
Entrepreneurs have complained that the government of Nepal has shown indifference towards handicraft business and that they have had to suffer not only during the pandemic but at other times as well. The SAARC handicraft building constructed on three ropanis of land in Tripureshwor three years ago for the promotion and lab testing of Nepali handicrafts has also not been able to operate yet.