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Balochistan’s handicraft losing identity, trade

Systematic collection of data on home-based workers and their contribution needs to be institutionalized

Growing presence of foreign brands in the Pakistani market has somewhat flourished a culture of brands in the country. The people are now becoming conscious about branded clothes, shoes, watches, utensils and even branded eatables and for many other things people prefer the foreign name. But the enriching culture value of Balochistan is still having very unique kind. Balochistan have always been very mythical and mysterious to the rest of the country. Its people have strong sense of respect for the culture and they do everything to carry it on for the generation to come. Balochistan has very soft and positive image of amazing and extraordinary dressing and outfit culture with sense of pride and beauty.

Balochistan is known for unique and intricate production of handicrafts which include hand-made Balochi shoes known for their durability, uniqueness and fineness all over the country; fine mirror work, embroidery, and marble work and fine quality precious stones. The embroidery of Makran, mirror work of Quetta, Kalat, Khuzdar, Dera Bugti and Panjgor, gold thread embroidery of Zhob and Sibi, leatherwork of Marri area, Lehri, Kalat and Turbat, Rugs and Namdas of Chaghi, Kalat, Ziarat and Pishin, Saddle bags of Bugti and Marri Tribal areas, Pottery of Dhadar, Bhag and Gulistan, perfume making of Kharan, Makran and Kalat, Wood carving of Kalat, stone carving of Nushki, Dalbandin and Quetta, shoe making of Marri and Bugti areas, woolen products of Makran, Kharan and Chaghi, copper utensils of Loralai, jewellery of Makran, Khuzdar, Pishin, Lorali and Nushki and beadwork of Marri tribal areas.

The local makers of Balochi chapal feel proud of their art, which is their cultural heritage. In the provincial capital Quetta, there are dozens of shops where Balochi chapals are sold at a price of Rs500 to Rs5000. On the eve of Eid festivals, these shops remain crowded. The shoes of choice are also made on order. The pairs of shoes with Balochi embroidery are sold at higher prices. The hand-made manufacturing of Balochi shoes is a fine work requiring keen attention and hard work. Shoe making of Marri and Bugti areas is famous for its peculiar styles and designs. The local shoe makers presently find it difficult to earn a handsome profit, as the cost of manufacturing is soaring with the rising prices of raw material including leather, thread, piece of tyre and so on.

“We are observing decline in sales of Balochi chapel for the last three years. The people purchase our shoes once in a year particularly on the eve of Eidul-Fitr. Wide-availability of Chinese shoes (chapal) at lower prices in the local market is one of the major reasons behind declining sale of locally-made shoes”, a local owner of Balochi chapal shop said.

Home-based workers is a major section of the society. They have to be seen as workers and producers. For making them eligible for social protection, they should be recognized as workers in the labor laws of the country. Balochistan government has no database on skilled persons who work from home, as they are not recognized under labor laws. These home-based workers are simply a non-entity for the government.

Unfortunately, this heritage is diminishing due to the rising prices of raw material and lack of patronage from the government. No policy can be formulated for the home-based workers associated with traditional shoe-making unless and until authentic data and statistics is collected about these disadvantaged workers. Unfortunately there is no official data available on the skilled persons who made handicrafts and other artwork, and in return they were paid very little. If the government would have data of such workers, they could be facilitated with compatible wages, health protection, employees old age benefit and social security protection and above all a policy could be devised at official level for improving the conditions of these home-based workers in Balochistan.

In the last five years, the provincial capital has witnessed the mushroom growth of shops selling Chinese shoes. The economical China-made shoes with different designs and varieties are available at cheaper prices in the market. Today, China has emerged as the hard competitor to the traditional hand-made shoes in the local market. Even the local people who purchase Balochi chapal as a part of culture, are losing interest in buying local stuff at higher prices. China is rapidly capturing the local shoe market. The situation is more embarrassing for the local businessmen associated with locally hand-made traditional varieties of shoes. The local shoe-makers are also losing work.

“Generally, the people are more price-concerned than quality-conscious. Local markets are flooded with China-made shoes with affordable prices for general public. The people prefer to purchase Chinese chapal twice or thrice a year than buying locally manufactured chapel once a year,” a seller of local shoes told this scribe.

Traditional shoe-making should be upgraded as an industry. The provincial government should ensure the supply of raw material to local shoe-makers at subsidized rates. Land should be allotted to the local shoe-makers for setting up manufacturing units in various districts of the province. This will create job opportunities for traditional shoe-makers and preserve the cultural heritage. The government must take steps to introduce hand-made Balochi chapal in the key national and international markets to create a demand for boosting this local industry. The Balochi shoes of different varieties may be displayed at various exhibitions and cultural shows at national and international level.

Trade development authority of Pakistan (TDAP) can play its important role in creating a demand for the Balochi chapal abroad. The local shoe-makers and traders should be encouraged to capture markets for their products abroad.

Local shoe-makers have traditional skills but they lack access to further skill training and upgradation. They also lack direct access to markets due to long value chains. There is a need to build trade-related capacity of local shoe-makers related to hand-made traditional varieties through investment in the areas of skill upgradation, technology upgradation, design development and product development. Efforts should be made on official level to promote collective enterprises of local shoe-workers.

Shoe-making is practiced as home-based work in the province. Home-based workers are an important part of Balochistan’s informal economy. Home-based work exists in all sectors of employment including handicrafts, manufacturing and agro-based sectors. It is an important source of employment for the local women who lack social security protection. These home-based workers are not generally incorporated in the national development agenda, as they are most unrepresented and voiceless. A national policy on home-based workers needs to be formulated to ensure their social protection and access to market. A systematic collection of data on home-based workers and their contribution to the provincial economy needs to be institutionalized.

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