Vietnam handicraft villages in Centre fall on hard times
An unsteady market, limited sources of capital and rising material costs have led to many handicraft households in the central provinces of Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam to look for new jobs.
Despite Government efforts to preserve and expand the handicrafts sector across the country, as well as to help provide new jobs for the increasing ranks of landless farmers, concerns have been raised that some handicraft villages are in danger of extinction.
Only 12 out of 88 handicraft villages in Thua Thien Hue Province report good business, while the remainder have suffered from losses, according to local authorities.
Once-famous handicraft centres like Phuoc Tich pottery village in Phong Dien District, My Xuyen wood-carving and Hien Luong metalwork villages in Phong Dien District are all now in trouble.
"My family have never been in such misery like we are in now," said Le Thi Vong, 76, a pottery artisan from Phuoc Tich pottery village in Phong Dien District.
Vong, who continues her family’s long tradition of producing pottery, says she is now considering quitting the job.
"The price of material has increased more and more while we can not sell enough of our products," she says. "Maybe I’ll quit the job."
The ancient tradition of pottery in the village is in danger of being lost. There are now only 18 elderly people in the village who keep the handicraft alive, while most young people have left for regional centres to earn a living.
In Phuong Duc bronze-casting village in Hue City, around 60 per cent of enterprises have closed during recent times leading to the loss of dozens of labouring jobs.
Nguyen Tien Long, deputy chairman of Phuong Duc Ward’s People's Committee, says local enterprises have limited sources of capital, and have been forced to limit their business to small-scale production or close down.
"They have had to increase their products’ prices to make up for the increasing price of bronze," says Long. "That’s why they have found it harder to sell their products."
Nguyen Van Hy’s bronze-casting enterprise, which used to export products to various places in the world and train hundreds of bronze casters, has closed temporarily and Hy says he can’t pay back a bank loan.
"The price of bronze has doubled since last year to reach VND100,000 (US$5.9) per kg now," says Hy.
"Our enterprise has suffered serious losses because we have had to increase prices. As a consequence, fewer people want to buy our products."
Among 61 handicraft villages in Quang Nam Province, many have met financial difficulties and thousands of labourers have been left unemployed.
Lam Yen drum-making village in Dai Loc District, for example, is close to losing its traditional craft for good. Households in the village have been struggling with a serious lack of capital.
Phan Lam, who is part of a family renowned locally for making drums, says the biggest challenge for local handicraft workers is getting paid.
"When the buyers receive their products, they pay only for half of the products at first," he says.
"So producers have to borrow money at a high interest rate to ensure production. Many of them now can not borrow any more money.
"There’s nothing to ensure the next generation can continue the trade."
Deputy chairman of Phuong Duc bronze-casting village says the trade has not contributed much to the local budget.
"That’s why we have no solutions to save the trade," he says.
In Quang Nam Province, authorities have not helped villages with backward production facilities, a poorly-qualified labour force and high material prices.
However, many handicraft villages in Quang Nam Province have succeeded in combining traditional handicraft with tourism.
Since 2003, Hoi An International Travel Centre, with infrastructure support from the province’s authorities, has set up the A Day As An Old Quarter Resident tour, which has taken thousands of tourists, both domestic and foreign, to handicraft villages like Tra Que vegetable-growing village, Kim Bong wood-carving village and the silk lantern-making village in Hoi An town.
(Source: Viet Nam News, URL:http://english.vietnamnet.vn/biz/2008/08/799426/)
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