Etikoppaka toys await GI, heavy metal certification
One cannot miss Etikoppaka toys or popularly known as Lakkapidathalu in local language which found it way in every Telugu home in India as well as abroad ever since they took an art form in the beginning of last century.
Etikoppaka (Visakhapatnam): One cannot miss Etikoppaka toys or popularly known as Lakkapidathalu in local language which found it way in every Telugu home in India as well as abroad ever since they took an art form in the beginning of last century.
Varaha River now polluted and partly dried up having a population of around 3,000. Named after Koppa Raja Narayana of Yelamanchili Chalukya dynasty of 1600 AD, the village started making bowls, boxes, toys, bangles, kumkum bharinas and other articles which reflect the part of the everyday life of the region.
The art form which gained popularity and promised a better future for the families of the artisans suffered several setbacks during the last decade. The exports to US and Europe, which were to the tune of Rs 50 to 80 lakh per annum, were stopped in 2007 when the importers insisted on certification and heavy metal analysis, both not in the hands of the villagers.
``We are yet to get geographical indication certificate pending since two years and most importantly the heavy metal analysis to show that the dyes and wood the artisans are using do not contain metals like barium, cadmium and lead. The analysis report costs a meagre Rs 5.5 lakh in India but no government agency is coming forward to help the artisans community,’’ said a local zamindar CV Raju, an artisan himself who introduced natural colours.
Talking to this correspondent here on Monday, Raju said they could get toxicology certificate as the importers suspected that the dyes used in the lacquer were found to contain toxic substances. He said the toys were exhibited at Rashtrapati Bhavan and at several international fairs held at New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Mumbai. A representation was given to the Union Ministry of Science and Technology but no help came, he added.
The main problem the artisans are facing with regard to sourcing Ankudu (wrightia tinctoria) wood, the many raw materials for making the toys. ``Ankudu is of no use to anybody except for making toys. It is neither used for firewood nor for furniture or any other purpose and yet the forest department made no efforts to make it available at a reasonable price. We buy from middlemen who collect as much as Rs 500 per a bundle containing less than 25 kg,’’ said Polumuru Nageswara Rao, another artisan of the village.
The local artisans are all praise for CV Raju, who was responsible for bringing new designs which now number more than 300 and market them in big cities. ``But for CV Raju, the toys would not have gone outside the district,’’ said a veteran artisan Dimili Sannibabu who now says the new generation might not enter the profession.
Threat from cheap Chinese toys
This tiny industry already simmering in trouble began facing a new threat from dumping of identical Chinese wooden toys into the markets. Middlemen who are the primary buyers of the artistic toys are also preferring identical Chinese imports as the profit margins are impressive.
A young artisan BV Satish said lack of support from the government authorities to put check the dominance of Chinese toys and heavy competition are adding as fresh woe to their problems. Agents, who trade in Etikoppka toys, formed a strong syndicate, procuring more Chinese toys from Chennai and Mumbai at cheaper prices and selling them for higher prices.
Fed up with the government agencies, the artisans are now looking for online trading agencies to sell their products. Some younger artisans are now in possession of android phones and surfing for national and international agencies. A young, HR Manager of a corporate company, K Ramesh, a native of Etikoppaka village has decided to help the artisans, most of them his relatives by directly selling toys in the virtual world. The artisans said they would soon have their website to eliminate the middlemen for good.
The AP Handicrafts Development Corporation has launched three month training programme for younger women and men to keep the art form alive. Sponsored by Union Ministry of Textiles, the training programmes are being held in Etikopakka as well as Narsipatnam. Around 60 persons are being trained by giving them a stipend of Rs 3, 500 to Rs 4,500 per month.``We will start our own designs and help our spouses,’’ said S Varalakshmi, a mother of two who refused to join Brandix India Apparel City as a tailor.
By KMP Patnaik