By Devika Jyothi
India is the world’s go-to destination for handlooms and hand-woven textiles. Handlooms comprise the largest cottage industry in the country, and millions of weavers and looms are engaged in weaving cotton, silk and other natural fibres into beautifully woven fabrics.
Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) recently organised a 6-day exposure visit for a Kenyan delegation to India, to learn from the Indian best practices in the handloom sector. The delegation of seven members included representatives from the government, industry support institutions, weaver associations and entrepreneurs.
As part of the visit, the delegation met with key officials at the Office of the Development Commissioner for Handlooms, Ministry of Textiles, Government of India. The aim of this visit was to provide the Kenyan delegation with a better understanding of the policy frameworks and schemes of the Indian government to drive growth in the handloom sector – for replication in Kenya, and to initiate collaboration between the Kenyan and Indian governments for technology transfer, capacity building and the development of a training curriculum on handlooms.
Manoj Jain, Director of the Office of the Development Commissioner for Handlooms, emphasised that a policy framework is needed to develop the handloom sector. Policy measures can go a long way to help sustain the sector, he said, citing minimum support price for cotton farmers, capacity building across the value chain and promoting the use of handloom textiles by the government, as examples. Support measures offered to the weavers by the Indian government include the supply of subsidised yarn, cheaper dyes, subsidies on looms (up to 90%), the provision of women-friendly looms and support for weavers to participate in expos, among others.
“Without continued government support the sector will fail,” Mr. Jain said, explaining that forming an Apex body like the Association of Corporations and Apex Societies of Handlooms (ACASH) can help strengthen the handloom organisation at the national level. He further urged the Kenyan delegation to devise a comprehensive action plan detailing the inputs and support required from Indian counterparts, to help establish the collaboration.
The delegation also met artisan associations and weaver cooperatives to understand the best practices in organising cluster-based weaver groups as well as activities and initiatives to enhance product competitiveness, and enable market access. Madhura Dutta, Executive Director, All India Artisans and Craftworker’s Welfare Association (AIACA) – a membership-based apex body engaged in policy advocacy and research activities aimed at increasing the market for handlooms – elaborated on their successful interventions such as the Craftmark initiative and the Enterprise Support Programme undertaken to support weaver groups in marketing their products.
The delegation discussed potential areas of collaboration including arranging design interventions as well as possible support to create programmes and platforms for strengthening the Kenyan weaver groups to become commercially sustainable organizations.
The team was then taken to the Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhawan, New Delhi to understand and assess the niche market for handloom products in India, and the branding and pricing of these products.
During the visit, the participants were introduced to the available technologies including state-of the art handloom equipment and loom manufacturers. Linkages were established with Weaver Service Centre, Panipat and TARA, New Delhi to collaborate on appropriate technology transfer, capacity building and to initiate procurement by the Kenyan government, training institutes and weaver groups.
On the third day, the team was in Assam specifically to see the entire value chain for eri silk from sericulture (cocoon cultivation) to handloom fabrics – a promising segment for development in Kenya. The team visited Fabric Plus Pvt. Limited, one of the leading manufacturers of premium silk fabrics, particularly Eri silk, to study and adopt industry best practices for the production of hand-woven silk products. At the Udalguri Silk Centre, a Government of Assam enterprise set up in collaboration with the Central Silk Board, the team got introduced to the entire value chain for eri, muga and mulberry silk rearing, spinning/reeling and weaving with a focus on lower end of the value chain such as the feed plantations and the cocoon bank.
During the last two days, the delegation visited the renowned Pochampally Handloom Park, Hyderabad and the weaver co-operative Malkha, to gain an understanding of the structure for setting up and management of producer-owned institutions for the handloom value chain. At Pochampally, the team was introduced to the intricacies of the Ikat dyeing technique used to create designs on the fabric. At Malkha, the discussions centred on weaver productivity and profitability.
The team also met and interacted with reputed textile designers Keshav Rao and Bina Rao, who run the Design studio Creative Bee in Hyderabad, a self-sustaining commercial organisation for the design, production and marketing of hand-woven textiles. Bina Rao discussed in detail on her designs, weaving and printing practices, presenting how her designs offer an aesthetic fusion of the rich heritage with contemporary fashion – a key area of interest for the Kenyan entrepreneurs.
Kenyan stakeholders from public institutions comment on the usefulness of the visit, key learnings and takeaways. . .
“The association with SITA has helped in reviving and strengthening our cooperatives. This exposure visit has presented us with many learnings and possibilities to fill the technology and training gap in the Kenyan co-operative sector, especially handlooms,” said Samuel Kamura Kuria, State Department for Co-operatives, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Co-operatives.
“The prospects for technology transfer and skills development for handloom and silk processing, the linkages with Weaver Service Centre and TARA for import of looms, as well as for curriculum development for training and capacity building are key takeaways from the visit,” Mr. Kuria said. “While we plan to upgrade the technology in cotton handlooms, Eri is a totally new segment presenting considerable employment potential in Kenya. Appointing a consultant to advise on developing Eri silk value chain as well as investing in Research and Development on seed-worms are aspects that will be put up for consideration,” he said.
“We also propose to undertake pilot cases on capacity building for handloom technology with Kenyan weaver co-operative Kanyadhiang led by Pauline Kagerah, a participant in the exposure visit; and a pilot case on Eri silk with Tosheka Textiles led by Lucy Lay Bigham, also a member of the Kenyan delegation. The pilots will be replicated across weaver groups. Here we will follow the learning from AIACA on cluster-based approach – one cluster will specialise in one product,” Mr. Kuria added.
“SITA has come at the right time to bridge the gap with respect to the integration of handloom value chain. Handloom was so far left out in the Cotton Textile and Apparel (CTA) value chain, and eri is totally new. Reviving cotton handloom and introducing eri will help in creating employment in the rural area through the development of these cottage industries,” observed Lawrence M. Ngari, County Industrial & Enterprise Development Officer, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Co-operatives.
“We are very excited about the opportunity to develop an all-inclusive curriculum for Apparel manufacturing, including one for handloom weaving,” said Festus Musyoki, Centre Manager NITA Textile Training Institute, a Centre under National Industrial Training Authority. “We had no benchmark for training so far. The visit has given us an opportunity to see and replicate best practices back home.”
“Through SITA, we look forward to forging collaboration with the Government of India, particularly to fill the training gap in Kenya. SITA will facilitate ToT (training of trainers) for NITA trainers, in India and Kenya. NITA trainers will then conduct training in 10 training institutes in Kenya, so as to benefit weavers in the country,” Mr. Musyoki added.
“I have come to learn the support provided by the Government to all the players along the handloom value chain,” said Dickson Kibata from Fibre Crops Directorate, Agriculture and Food Authority, State Department of Agriculture, Kenya. “This visit has informed me of the importance of government initiatives and incentives to develop the sector. Introducing minimum support price for the farmer as part of the legislation, establishment of an apex body like AIACA for policy advocacy and setting up a procurement authority for government purchases to promote and source local products are key takeaways from the visit.”
“I would like to see these replicated in Kenya,” Mr. Kibata remarked.
More on the experiences of the entrepreneurs and weaver associations over the next weeks….