Need to capitalize local potential for self-employment

By Altaf Hameed Rao
MIRPUR (AJK), Sep 10 (APP):In any land of political turmoil, the politicians and the policymakers keep spending their abilities on political engineering keeping their eyes off the local products in strengthening the economy and revenue earning.
Since we are the ones living in such a situation over the decades, the marvelous products of our beloved country remain neglected from promotion in potential local, regional, and international markets.
The uncertainty prevailing during the transitions, as well as routine governments’ tenure, is deemed to be one of the major factors hampering our prospect gains in different areas.
Our Azad Jammu and Kashmir region can validly be quoted as an example of being rich in natural resources, a skillful workforce, and different products.
Spanning 13,297 sq. km of the picturesque area with a population of 4.5 million people, this region besides its snow-covered and lush green mountainous, thick forests and precious minerals, is also known for quality handicrafts.
Once globally famous for its traditional ancient handicrafts produced of Kashmiri silk yarn, pashmina shawls, embroidery dresses, and pheran, these products are gradually losing world markets due to improper marketing and value addition.
Even under the umbrella of the State Departments of Commerce and Industry, the sericulture and small industries are yet to be groomed to the level of competing internationally.
The full-fledged revival of the cottage industry is direly needed to benefit from the skills of a talented workforce through a consistent and well-planned approach and methodology to promote their products locally and internationally.
“Protecting Kashmiri craftsmanship is still a challenge. We have a rich potential in our experts that needs to be protected and promoted,” remarked Syed Asghar Ali Shah, Retired Director of AJK Small Industries Corporation.
 “Our traditionally known arts are dying day by day and this expertise is also not being transferred to our younger generation.”
He informed that Kashmiri handicrafts like Ring / Pashmina Shawls were still in demand remarkably due to their peculiar nature and unique quality, work and designs.
“Therefore, the Azad Jammu Kashmir Small Industries Corporation and the State Sericulture Department should diligently focus on their modernization and promotion,” Asghar Ali said.
He pleaded that promoting handicrafts and silkworm rearing would help in local employment generation as well as earning handsome foreign exchange.
“Therefore it is direly needed to enhance investment in the cottage industry to promote business activity and business activities should be promoted and established at various parts of the state by engaging the local population in accordance with the environment and availability of local raw material, so that, the alarming/double-digit rate of unemployment can be addressed”, he underlined.
Experts have suggested that besides promoting the production of natural silk and silk cocoons through silkworm rearing within 35 days, other raw materials can also be utilized for preparing potential walnut wooden carved products, hand-knitted carpets, pashmina shawls, Kashmiri embroidery dresses, paper machie, numda, gabba, chain stitch, loi, pattu and traditional Kashmiri Kangri (a manual heater Kashmiris use keeping it in their Pheran or Phirin.
Since raw materials and experts are locally available what is needed is patronage, availability of resources, and exploring new markets.
Although the state government has announced five years of tax holidays for new industries, the intending entrepreneurs may have the required industrial plots available in Industrial Estates in various parts of AJK for the establishment of handicraft production units on easy installments.
Since AJK is fully enriched with huge natural potential with a conducive environment and locally produced raw materials for the promotion of the cottage industry, the experts recommend the formation of farmers’ clusters, promote craftsmen for sustainable productivity, and ensure the supply chain of their products.
Furthermore, they pleaded to establish handicrafts export warehouses at dry ports, enhance a number of handicrafts display centers, organize workshops and training courses to equip the craftsmen with the latest techniques, and develop linkages with allied departments working in various provinces of Pakistan.
Besides the provision of hybrid mulberry plants with imported silk seed to intending farmers for maximum production of silk cocoons and natural silk, it has been also recommended to recognize the skills of artisans, craftsmen, and farmers vying to promote these businesses.
Silk, goat, and rabbit farmers should be provided certificates, craftsmen should be provided special training to improve the quality of silk as per international requirements, identification of potential international markets, and encourage unemployed youth to engage in this business for the welfare of their families as well as economic progress of the state.
As many of the world economies bank on their cottage industry for economic growth, it is imperative for us to revive our cottage industry as a whole as well as specifically focus on the rare production of rare commodities to attract more buyers, starting afresh by incentivizing small and cottage industry for self-employment of the inflation stricken populace of the country.
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