Australia eyes Lankan handlooms

Wednesday, 18 January 2012 00:51 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka’s handloom sector holds strong promise. In the aftermath of tourism boom, local handlooms have begun to surge.

“Any future support from Australia to introduce the Private-Public Partnership model to our handloom sector will be most welcome,” said Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on 16 January.

Minister Bathiudeen was addressing Australian Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo Sonya Koppe who was making a courtesy call on Minister Bathiudeen at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce premises, Colombo 3.Australian Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo Sonya Koppe (left) peruses a Sri Lankan handloom sample displayed by veteran designer Senaka De Silva (right) as Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen (centre) looks on

Briefing Koppe on the progress of handloom sector, Minister Bathiudeen said: “We have now setup a national level, high priority task force on handlooms which will spearhead the new handlooms roadmap of the country. The demand for Sri Lanka handlooms have been steadily growing in both local and international segments. Sri Lanka’s booming tourism has become a key driver in the handloom surge. We are now preparing to upgrade the sector with product diversification, new training, design development, and marketing. We are planning to establish district level handloom centres under private sector management. With Australian Government’s support, we can infuse the Private Public Partnership model in this sector.”

Having perused through a Sri Lankan handloom sample displayed by veteran designer Senaka De Silva, Koppe said:  “I shall certainly take the handloom message back to our High Commissioner. This appears to be a terrific project.”

Koppe also stressed on the longstanding bilateral relations between both countries.

“Sri Lanka is thankful for the support extended by Australia and AusAid to 3,785 returnee families to reconstruct or repair their damaged houses in the districts of Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi under the ‘Shelter Support to Conflict Affected IDPs in Northern Sri Lanka’ Project,” Minister Bathiudeen said.

Sri Lanka’s $ 13 m handloom industry has seen a sudden resurgence in the aftermath of end of conflict in 2009 and booming tourism numbers. Currently, Sri Lanka handlooms, in addition to the domestic market, are readily absorbed by Italy, Maldives, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Thailand, Netherlands and Norway.

According to the Exports Development Board (EDB) under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the handloom exports valued $ 0.90 m in 2009 rose in 2010 to $ 1.5 m and in January-October 2011, stood at $ 1.17 m. EDB expects the handloom exports to hit $ 2.24 m in 2015. The handloom textile export target for 2011 set by the EDB under the Ministry of Industries is US$ 1.29 million (Rs. 146 million).

Sri Lanka’s handloom sector is one of the low cost but high earning industries. Its annual production exceeds six million metres of looms with an estimated annual production value of Rs. 1,500 m ($ 13.19 m), all of which are absorbed by both local and international demand. The production is labour intensive and the industry consumes less electricity and utilities while generating higher employment.

At present, there are 511 weaving centres with 2971 weavers and more than 10,000 looms in Sri Lanka assisted by 22 dying houses. More than 10,000 personnel are engaged in the handloom industry. According to NEDA, there are 919 private sector handloom operators of which 536 are based in the east, operating 2,454 looms. In the cooperative sector, 925 handlooms in 110 centres and under the Provincial Councils are 5,169 handlooms in 511 centres.

The key Lankan provinces for handlooms are the Wayamba, Western and Central Provinces. The eastern regions of Sri Lanka too were reputed for handlooms but the 2004 tsunami disaster inflicted damage on the eastern production but despite this, eastern handlooms continue to command buyer appeal.