Uttar Pradesh (UP) is home to some of the most spectacular tourist assets of India, attracting a huge tourist footfall. Taj Mahal alone in Agra, for example, is visited by more than half a million tourists from all over the world every year. Yet, a stark contradiction is evident: these tourism-rich areas are also sites of poverty and destitution in the state. This is despite the fact that many unique arts and crafts are practised around these tourist assets which can generate employment and incomes, particularly for youth.
Currently, there is a dwindling base of artisans in and around tourist sites, as the younger generation (the 15–30 age group) is not willing to learn the requisite skills owing to lack of anticipated income. In Agra and Braj region, for example, more than 90 percent of the artisans do not want future generations to continue working in traditional arts and crafts.
To provide these artisans an opportunity to flourish, policymakers have introduced the concept of creative economies. These bring together the aspects of creativity, culture, economics, technology, and intellectual property, providing value addition at points of production. ‘Creative economy’ thus provides opportunities to young local entrepreneurs working in traditional and contemporary industries around tourism-rich areas to use their talents for commercial pursuits. As part of the pro-poor tourism project initiated by the World Bank and UP Department of Tourism, MicroSave Consulting identified the creative economies of the state and designed value chain interventions such that more control rests in the hands of the artisans, motivating young people to stay and prosper in the profession.
Rejuvenating the creative economies in India
We identified many creative economies, across sectors including handicrafts, agro products, and performing arts, all of which have strong synergies with tourism. These include embroidery (zardozi), culinary items (kalanamak rice), sculpture (soft stone statues of the Buddha), performing arts (charkula), pottery (terracotta), and handicraft (pachikari), among others. We researched their genesis to understand if there has been a decline in quality standards over time. We examined their supply chains, production processes, market linkages, social practices, environmental influences, gender relations and labour aspects.
Each creative economy presented its own set of challenges. A case in point is the splendid art form of pachikari practised in Agra, replicating the pietra dura work at the Taj Mahal. Trained by their ancestors, young pachikari artisans cut semi-precious stones like lapis, malachite, and onyx into different shapes and sizes and fit them in grooves on marble surfaces to create delightful designs. The difference between the wages earned by those working in this age-old trade and the margins realised by retailers who sell the finished product is stark, sometimes as high as 90 percent. In our engagements with young artisans, they cited key business and technical support — skill enhancement to training on marketing to technological upgradation and rewards/recognition — as areas to help them earn larger margins.
Similarly, young artisans in the Braj region make religious and decorative strings, such as malas and bracelets, out of basil stem, specially crafted on indigenously made machines. Sales of genuine products made from basil stem face stiff competition from counterfeits that are sold at low prices in the temple town of Vrindavan despite the fact that the only micro-cluster carrying out the authentic work is located just 15km from the temple sites. These artisans mentioned the need for support in creating new market platforms to broaden their client base and increase sales.
Suitable support can have an impact on distribution channels, quality control, product design, product range and attributes, and brand formation — in short, the entire ecosystem around the creative economy enables better margin sales to tourists. Our estimates suggest that such enabling support can increase the incomes of existing young artisans by up to 50 percent. Such integrated ecosystem support to increase business volumes and margins will also motivate them to inculcate skills among future generations. They can thus become job creators for unemployed youth, promoting all-around economic development around tourist areas.
The way forward
Currently, in India, the government is faced with a high rate of distressed youth migration from small towns and the rural non-farm sector seeking informal employment in unorganised enterprises in urban areas. Such informal employment generally involves a lower level of skills and reduced value addition when compared to their potential contributions working in a creative economy as a skilled professional. As a result, many creative economies in India face extinction.
The intellectual property rights, a critical dimension of creative economies, provides immense entrepreneurial opportunities for youth to uniquely showcase their skills, if supported by an enabling ecosystem. There are examples from other developing countries like Honduras, Kenya and Indonesia, where integrated support to creative economies has helped strengthen inclusive and sustainable tourism. Indonesia, for example, has established Bekraf which has dedicated staff for research, access to capital, marketing, and intellectual property, providing dividends for local communities.
Promoting such creative economies by building an enabling ecosystem will reduce distress migration, prevent loss of exquisite creative economies, and enhance employment opportunities and income levels of youth. It is crucial that policymakers in India and across the globe make efforts to unleash the power of creative economy ecosystems.
Abhishek Gupta, Akhand Tiwari, Bhavana Srivastava are associated with MicroSave India.