Bottlenecks of Nepali Paper Craft Industry

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--By Syed Imran Subhani
Nepali papercraft industry is one of the country’s major exports that have good scope in generating employment at the local level with minimum capital requirement. Lokta or Daphney paper products have been an important part of the papercraft industry. Paper products made from Lokta have earned good reputation in the international market, but this industry has bottlenecks that should be addressed to sustain its growth. 
Though the figures remain sketchy, handmade Nepali paper products contribute around 10 per cent to Nepal’s total export. Major international markets for the paper handicraft products are the European countries and the United States of America (USA). 
The Lokta paper has been in use in Nepal from as early as the 12th century for official documentation. It got international recognition after the UNICEF started to use it for its important documents. Known for its long lasting quality, the handmade Lokta paper is made from not only the bark of the Lokta tree but also other plants like Argeli (Edgeworthiagardeneri), babiyo (Eulaliopsisbinata), hay, leaf of cardamoms etc.  
Lokta paper is used by the paper handicraft industry to produce a wide range of products including wall hangings, photo-frames, albums, mirrors, paper vases, paper jewelries, among other numerous products. However, despite its potential to contribute to the economic growth, its progress has been hindered due to various bottlenecks. 
The government has not yet formulated a concrete policy for the growth of this industry. Lack of clear directives or best practices on preserving and regenerating Lokta/Daphne has endangered these plants and by extension the whole of hand paper industry. Lack of research to figure out best practices for sustainable use, preservation and boosting the growthof the Lokta plants, remain one of the major hindrances to ensure the future of this industry.
The government has not introduced clear policies and inputs to check and control the export of Lokta to India and other countries. In lack of clearly written directives on export destination for these products, paper handicraft manufacturers are deprived of full benefits they could garner. 
Like some other industries, this industry also lacks proper and clearly defined quality measures so as to retain the brand image of Nepali Lokta paper products in the international market. Due to lack of policy on quality control of these products and a standard monitoring and evaluation system that would monitor and evaluate the quality of paper for export, its hard earned reputation in the international market could be tarnished. This concern becomes more acute considering the existence of Lokta paper producers that export sub-standard Lokta papers.
Lack of transparent and simple licensing process for using Lokta barks is another bottleneck faced by the industry. The existing process to acquire license is too lengthy and expensive due to various fees charged at different points of the acquisition process.  
Use of the royalty system for acquiring Lokta barks has resulted in haphazard, unsustainable and unequal distribution cutting of Lokta barks from the Lokta Forest. If this condition persists, depletion of Lokta forest will be a serious threat for the whole Nepali handpaper industry. 
For instance, the government has been distributing license to too many entrepreneurs without considering the capacity and potential of the Lokta forests in areas surrounding Parvat, Myagdi, and Baglung districts. 
For a sustainable development of this sector, that has huge potentials to create employment at the local level on a long-term basis and subsequently contribute in reducing trade deficit, the government and concerned stakeholders should come together and address the bottlenecks.
Subhani is Senior HR/Admin Officer at Avionte Solutions Pvt Ltd.

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