Opportunities Knock Only Once

As FHAN celebrates the achievements of the past fifty years, the focus must be on the opportunities at hand now. We can waste our energy, time and creativity on complaining about the state of the affaires in the country or take advantage of what is possible. There is also the danger of being caught up in giving continuity to so many rituals at the association that we may not see the opportunities that are open to us for a very short time.

Opportunities do not wait for a long time and we must act individually and collectively to ensure the promotion, development and propagation of the globally unique Nepali handicraft here and abroad. We also need to organize and attend fewer meetings and roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. Actions always speak louder than words. Leadership by FHAN is needed to make these changes so that the artist, society, government at all levels and markets can all benefit.

Source of forex

The fact that Nepal has a crisis in the form of shortage of foreign exchange is an opportunity for the handicraft sector as a whole. The government has announced a cash incentive for the export of Nepal’s products and handicraft has a special advantage in the global market. This incentive and forex crisis can be leveraged if FHAN can be the bridge between artists and producers and the government. We need to strike while the iron is hot.

The demand side must be better understood; the small demands need to be aggregated. We need to ensure quality assurance and compliance with destination country regulations. We need to ensure a smooth supply chain, a clear understanding of the value added chain and the ability to monitor and report on the impact handicraft export is having on the forex reserves of Nepal. This is also a window to fix the system where they are weak or where they may be broken. This is the time when the government will listen to FHAN

Saving accounts and investments

When the value of the Nepali currency is going down against others, people with money to spare will understand that art and craft is a good long term investment. This is the perfect time to educate the finance sector that we need to look beyond gold and land and make art and craft a good investment for the future. The art scene around the world and the prices of art at auction houses should be a wake-up call for Nepali artists and FHAN.

There is a real market for master pieces and in precious metal here and globally. Here again, while everyone is complaining about the falling value of our money, there could be a real opportunity. Of course we shall need to acquire new skills to work on these markets and understand how the art collection world works. If Nepali art is worth stealing and selling in the black market, there must be a huge demand for what we can craft and produce.

Nepalis with disposable income

Today many Nepalis are building second and third houses; they have bigger cars and are travelling for pleasure locally and globally. Last Tihar or Swonti festival, the government reported that Nepalis stayed in line to buy thirty-six crore rupees worth of gold mint coins or asarfi. Surely they would be interested in buying local art and craft and ritual objects for use, display or for gifts. This could be the bigger growing market.

We will need to have a better understanding of design and creativity. Everyone likes to own and show off something that is unique and not freely available in every shop window. People will want to sit and explain what they want and what they are willing to pay for such art and craft. Hand crafted art should not look like things that are mass produced. This can put off the potential buyer. No one wants to pay for art and craft that has been copied many times.

Fifteen percent advantage

The Government of Nepal says it will buy locally produced goods even if they are fifteen percent more expensive than imported goods. Why can we not organize the whole country around this advantage? Yes we can make a list of all the excuses why it cannot be done. If FHAN takes the lead and makes it a mission, it can and will be done. How sad is it to see imported carpets, light fittings and furniture while we complain about young people leaving the country seeking work in far away countries? How many jobs could we create if we catered to the needs of the government at all three levels? Newly elected politicians will get an allowance to buy furniture. Why can we not make sure they are crafted in Nepal by skillful Nepalis? Are we only going to complain or roll up our sleeves? Opportunity is knocking at our doors.

Lumbini and Pokhara duty free shops

Two new international airports are operational or opening soon. Are we working to make sure that both have a well-designed outlet for Nepali art and craft? The demand for Nepali art could go up substantially if these spaces could be designed and resourced with the best people who can tell the story of Nepali art and craft. People are keen to buy art when they are sold with the story.

Clever individuals with political connections will benefit and have been benefitting, but FHAN is positioned to ensure that there are collective benefits for artists in the most remote areas of Nepal. These stores will be a huge opportunity to also simplify the export of Nepali handicraft as they will be in the international terminal. It should be as simple as buying a bottle of alcohol or box of chocolate.

These are opportunities if we are willing to act collectively as a Federation. We should be wise at fifty years old.

NOTE: This article was published in a special issue of Handicraft Souvenir launched by Federation of Handicraft Association of Nepal (FHAN) on the occasion of 19th Handicraft Trade Fair held in Kathmandu in 2022.