Context: Recently the Prime Minister mentioned the brightly coloured Channapatna toys in and emphasised on the promotion of locally manufactured toys.

Toy industry and its potential

  • PM said that while the global toy industry is worth over ₹7 lakh crore, India’s share in it is minimal despite its wide variety of traditional and unique toys.
  • This industry has tremendous potential and can provide employment to lakhs of people, according to market estimates.
  • While the Prime Minister says India has the potential to become a hub for the global toy industry, artisans face a range of problems.

Channapatna toys

  • Channapatna toys are a particular form of wooden toys (and dolls) that are manufactured in the town of Channapatna in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka state, India. 
  • This traditional craft is protected as a geographical indication (GI) under the World Trade Organization, administered by the Govt. of Karnataka. 
  • Traditionally, the work involved lacquering the wood of the Wrightia tinctoria tree, colloquially called Aale mara (ivory-wood).
  • The woodwork is colored using vegetable dyes 
  • The origin of these toys can be traced to the reign of Tipu Sultan who invited artisans from Persia to train the local artisans in the making of wooden toys.

The Etikoppaka signature toys include a standing couple, a wedding scene, automobiles, birds, and shehnai troupes. 

  • They are made with the soft variety of wood from the Ankudu tree.  

Challenges to the handicraft toy industry: An influx of cheap Chinese toys, high GST, lack of innovation and funds, and inadequate training plague the traditional industry.

  • Demonetisation in 2016 and imposition of a 12% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on their products dealt additional blows to their business.
  • The lockdown worsened the woes of the craftsmen.Now there is a huge dip in demand due to the pandemic. 
  • The Chinese toys: The assembly line production of Chinese toys makes them far less expensive than the Channapatna toys, which are hand-crafted and hand-painted. 
    • Even though Channapatna toys are said to be more durable and safer for children (as they are coloured with vegetable dyes).
  • Meagre incomes: The number of artisans engaged in the toy-making industry is dwindling as their earnings fall well below the wages offered in other industries.
  • Funding poses a big problem to bulk manufacturing, Artisans are not in a position to make toys in bulk and store them with the society because of financial issues.
  • The absence of innovation in the design of toys is an area of concern. 
    • In contrast, the new and attractive designs and colours of the Chinese products score over the Channapatna toys.
    • Government workshops on design innovation are very few.
  • Use of chemical dyes instead of vegetable colours, is considered harmful for children. Many countries have strict rules against the import of toys with chemical dyes. As a result, some consignments fail to make the export quality grade.
  • Illegal wood in Kondapalli: The primary issue with the industry is its basic ingredient, the Tella Poniki wood, which is illegal to fell.
  • Production time: 
    • The ivory wood needs to be seasoned for at least three to four months before an artisan can start working on it. 
    • The compromise on this waiting period shows in the quality of the product.
  • Online marketing avenues too are not working well for the artisans. Higher prices on Amazon and Flipkart attract fewer customers. 

Govt. initiatives in the toy industry:

  • The Central government’s ‘Atmanirbhar’ policy is expected to discourage or even impose a ban on the import of Chinese toys.
  • Toy workshops are registered with the State Handicrafts Development Corporation, which purchases finished products from each of the artisans. 
  • Common facility centres set up in Channapatna by the government authorities offer work spaces and lathes at a concessional rate to a few artisans.
  • Special attention is also paid to the export-oriented toys.
  • The government plans to create an online market for the artisans by facilitating their registration on the Government e-Marketplace portal.

Way forward: An organised approach towards enhancing the skills of artisans along with subsidies, interest-free loans, scientific development of the industry, market interventions, and official supply of wood and lacquer would ensure the industry’s growth and competitiveness.

  • Start-ups: Etikoppaka handicrafts have a GI tag. That is a valuable resource for start-ups for mutually beneficial tie-ups. 

  • A corpus fund can solve the funding problem for bulk manufacturing. And there should also be a mechanism to arrest the volume of Chinese toys in our market. 

  • Training: Artisans are given short-term training by the skill development corporation. At least a year of training is required for professional expertise in the craft. 
  • Authorised wood needs to be supplied by the government after treatment so that it is immune to pests. The treatment plant is too expensive for us to establish.
  • Innovative tools and designs: The government can help artisans in creating innovative tools to enable faster manufacturing. 
  • Social security: To encourage the next generation to take the legacy of toy-making forward, the government should provide funds and old-age pensions.
  • Subsidised loans: Apart from providing interest free loans and longer training periods, the government should help in finding ways to restart exports. 
  • Demand for eco-friendly toys: Toys made of plastic and other hazardous material are being replaced by wooden toys and toys made of other non-hazardous material. 
    • This provides wooden toy-makers a great opportunity to innovate and meet the surging demand. 
    • Artisans feel encouraged by the PM's push, but the toy story can end well only if their many problems are addressed and the government manages to bring the industry out of the woods.

Image source: Amazon.in