KCLIF will be offering a myriad of handicraft Pix Courtesy of Kraftangan Malaysia
By Sakini Mohd Said
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) ? Since its establishment in 1979, Perbadanan Kemajuan Kraftangan Malaysia (Kraftangan) has never wavered in its role to continually develop the local craft industry and uplifting its status on the global sphere.
The agency has activated a paradigm shift that transformed what was formerly a cottage industry into a viable alternative for the boosting the country's economy.
This is proven with the value of the sales from the craft industry soaring from RM140 million in 2011 to over RM400 million in Oct 2016.
The local craft industry indeed boasts of unique heritage crafts with intricate details and fine craftsmanship, but the question that remains is: for how long? Many of these craftsmen and entrepreneurs are aging. Some have even passed on, taking with them their wealth of knowledge and expertise.
The industry is not one that is popular with the younger generation, so the concern plaguing the agency is how will they keep the torch burning and who will they pass the torch to? If something is not done soon, all their efforts for the past 38 years would be for naught.
THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY
"What worries us (Kraftangan) is that the next generation to enter this field are not as many in number as what we have presently, most of whom are already aging or have passed on.
Abdul Manan Ismail Pix Courtesy of Kraftangan Malaysia
"We do not want these knowledge of the craft to go to waste simply because there is no one to pass them on to. It would be a huge loss to the nation," said the Director of the Corporate Communication Division of Kraftangan Abdul Manan Ismail.
He was met during a media programme in conjunction with the upcoming 2017 Kuala Lumpur International Craft Festival (KLICF) recently.
The situation has become even more pressing when the agency's effort to produce the next generation of craftsmen through the National Craft Institute (IKN) is hampered due to numerous challenges.
"Some of the institute's trainees do not end up serving the industry. For example, trainees who have gained wicker weaving skills end up pursuing other fields upon completion of training. This is a waste of talent and skill.
"More shockingly, some of them have instead decided to become clerks, teachers of even toll booth cashiers upon graduation from IKN. What a loss! They could have helped in increasing the number of craft entrepreneurs in the country but instead we are losing them by the day," he said.
THERE IS DEMAND
There are currently only 5,831 craft entrepreneurs registered under Kraftangan, covering five fields namely textile with 1,920 people, forest products (2,127), earth (233), metals (734) and others (817).
It is by no means an encouraging figure, what more with certain fields that seem to be dying and in dire need for remedial action.
"Not all craft fields are faced with the threat of extinction. The batik industry, for example, does not have a problem as the younger generation are keenly involved in it.
"The ones that warrant concern are wicker weave, weaving and coppersmithing because there are not many apprentices in the fields. The trade still exists but the response has been rather lukewarm.
"In fact, many of the Kraftangan staff who taught wicker weave have long retired or passed away," he revealed.
The situation is not one to be taken lightly as wicker weaving, for example, is a heritage craft from 300 years ago and considered an art unique to the Asian region.
"The only place where the mengkuang (screwpine) hand fan is weaved is Terengganu. As we are well aware of, a large part of the wicker weave process is by hand, so we can only produce so many," he said.
Abdul Manan surmised the lack of interest among youths for a career in the craft industry was due to the complicated work process.
Kraftangan therefore is taking pragmatic steps to remedy this by providing incubator schemes that provide workshops for rent for a nominal fee, machines, marketing advice and modern designs to attract IKN trainees to put their skills to good use.
In addition to that, the agency is also promoting Malaysian crafts locally and overseas through programmes like the KLICF that will be taking place from Nov 23 to 26 at Dataran Putrajaya in Precinct 3.
KLICF is entering its third year and is an initiative of the Tourism and Culture Ministry through Kraftangan to provide an international platform for local and international craft entrepreneurs.
"Some from the younger generation are worried that there is no future in the field and that they would not be able to make a proper living out of it.
"This mentality needs to change. They should witness for themselves at the KLICF how local and global entrepreneurs are able to generate a lucrative income through their craft," he said.
In addition to that, the festival is also a meeting platform for local and international craftsmen to exchange ideas, knowledge and information and pursue new markets globally.
Kraftangan is targeting a participation of 442 people from 38 countries at the 2017 KLICF, 250 of which would be local entrepreneurs and 192 from the rest of the world.
Among the countries expected to participate in the event are Bhutan, China, Nepal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mexico, Venezuela, Morocco, Egypt and India.
"We expect 60,000 visitors and a sale value of RM7 million in the upcoming KLICF. We are organising the event in Putrajaya this year due to the massive construction around Kompleks Craft in Jalan Conlay," said Abdul Manan.