Mumbai: Export Import Bank of India, or Exim Bank, has decided to give a greater thrust to traditional Indian handicraft and craftsmanship, eyeing substantial returns from exporting such exotic creations.
Floated 25 years ago by the banking regulator Reserve Bank of India, Exim Bank has traditionally been engaged in financing and facilitating India’s international trade.
In its new drive, the bank aims to help rural artisans improve their craft to meet quality requirements of foreign buyers, train them in mass production techniques, and even assist them in securing deals.
In February, the bank signed a cooperation deal with the ministry of panchayati raj to promote Indian craftsmanship and cottage industries abroad, and more recently, it organized an ‘India Week’ in Washington, in association with the International Finance Corp. to showcase a select range of Indian handicraft.
“The products got instant recognition and we opened up a market there,” said Shankarnarayan Rao, executive director, Exim Bank.
Such positive experience has convinced the trade body that it has to get on the wagon and capitalize on the increasing global demand for quality craftsmanship—a commodity in comparatively low supply.
The global handicraft market is worth more than $100 billion (Rs4 trillion); the domestic industry, with about seven million artisans, commands about 2% of this market, though there is great demand for traditional Indian craft in North America, Europe and other Asian countries.
“The aim is to take products from the rural environment and to build up the level and base to compete in the global scenario,” Rao said.
It’s not as simple. Exim Bank engaged foreign experts to make the artisans understand the stringent safety standards necessary to market their products in countries such as Europe and North America.
It hired experts to train the artisans in mass production for handmade products, and has even tied up with the Confederation of non governmental organizations (NGOs) of Rural India (CNRI), an umbrella body of about 3,000 non-profit organizations and self-help groups, to bring together artisans producing similar products and standardize the process.
To build scale, the bank finances local entrepreneurs so they can expand their facility and in some cases even invites participants to form a cluster so they can market their products in an organized way.
For example, Exim Bank realized that artisans from no-rth-east India creating intricately designed bamboo furniture could push their thriving business further if they could standardize their process for better scale and quality.
The bank tied up with CNRI and Kolkata-based United Bank of India, which has more than 200 branches in north-east India, to bring the artisans together and train them on various aspects of production.
The group met recently at Shillong for a workshop, where foreign experts were invited to train them on safety standards.
There is no charity in any of this. Exim Bank charges interest, typically at Libor (London interbank offered rate) plus 1-2%, for financing the projects. It also charges 2-3% of the sales value as fees if the artisans secure orders.
Exim Bank is also working on exporting traditional know-how and technology to developing countries.
These include making non-vitrified, handmade floor tiles and using watermills in the Himalayan regions to generate power to the tune of 2-3KW.