With the Covid-19 graph showing a downward trend in the state, the focus has shifted to restoring the livelihood-related activities that were badly hit by the pandemic-induced lockdowns. Though people across classes were impacted by the economic slowdown, the need for government support appears to be much more among certain sections. For example, weavers and handicraft workers will require hand-holding to be able to resume normal activities and sustain their families.
The Odisha government seems more than willing to support artists and craftsmen who are trying to pick up the pieces after the pandemic blow. If reports in a section of the media are to be believed, the handicrafts department is likely to partner with the Odisha Bamboo Development Agency to develop seven bamboo handicrafts clusters in the state. The clusters will help bring about value addition to bamboo craft and encourage innovation and make it more consumer-friendly.
Presently, the bulk of traditional bamboo artisans in the state are engaged in weaving mats and baskets from bamboo. But these cater mostly to the rural market. The craft depends mainly on the supply of bamboo from districts such as Mayurbhanj, Balasore and Bhadrak where it grows much more than in other parts of the state. Currently, bamboo craft clusters are operating in Sundargarh, Subarnapur, Nabarangpur, Khordha, Kalahandi, Deogarh, Cuttack and Bargarh.
But since most of the artisans use traditional tools, the process of manufacturing is time-consuming and even the quality of products leaves much to be desired. Hence, it has become imperative to upgrade their skills with the use of the latest tools to ensure quality products. Under the initiative being planned these artisans will be trained to develop products like furniture, Venetian blinds, toothbrush, lifestyle products, jewellery, bottles and yoga mats.
The focus will as much on strengthening product value as on providing new market linkages for their products. There is a distinct possibility that, like handloom products, bamboo crafts will also be sold through e-commerce platforms. Similar initiatives are also likely to be planned for craftsmen in other sectors. For example, applique craftsmen from Pipili and some other parts of the state have been demanding better marketing platforms. Applique business in Pipili, which is the biggest applique production centre of the state, has taken a beating since the construction of the bypass road leading to Puri. Since tourist buses now hardly stop at Pipili, the earning of the craftsmen has been reduced to a trickle. The corona pandemic made the situation worse for them. These artisans are also looking for government support.
The government, on the other hand, has already come out with schemes to protect the livelihood of poor migrant workers who have been struggling to find work after returning to the state from different parts of the country. The focus is on providing them work that suits their skills so that they don’t have to go out of Odisha again in search of livelihood.