Md. Shahriar Alam

Member of Parliament, 57 Rajshahi-6, Bangladesh

Support for footwear makers

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Business Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lawmaker says growth of the industry would help eradicate poverty in the area

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The SME Foundation and the government will work together to solve the problems the shoemakers in Kaluhati face, a local lawmaker said.

“We need to take up short-, mid- and long-term strategies to help them, as these people have huge potential to grow,” said Md. Shahriar Alam, MP, Rajshahi 6, Bagha-Charghat.

He was speaking to The Daily Star recently at a training workshop at SME Foundation in Dhaka. He believes, by propelling this sector forward, more factories would be set up in the area that would help eradicate poverty.

The lawmaker took the initiative to organise the five-day workshop to assist the shoemakers from one of the country’s remotest villages, which falls under his constituency. The initiative was aimed at helping them grow further, develop their products and get better prices.

Alam said the prospects for the artisans in the area are huge. “We are trying to create opportunities so that they can become bigger and expand globally.”

He said he would personally try to create more employment in the shoemaking hub in the next three years, and turn it into a medium industry, as they are now mostly cottage.

The industry has grown in a scattered manner in the last 25 years, using very traditional equipment, he said. It started with one or two, and now has about 35 small factories. They do good business during the two Eid festivals.

About 450 people are involved with the cottage industry and most of them are villagers. Some of the workers are part-timers while others are full-timers. But they have created a big market in North Bengal. They even supply sandals to Dhaka.

Alam said they should get new designs, as the product is highly design-driven. “We also have to help them market their products.”

The lawmaker told the SME Foundation that the entrepreneurs have to be nudged forward to tap their potential. “The industry is still in an incubator stage. If we can give it a modern outlook, the industry will go a long way.”

Following requests from the lawmaker, SME Foundation completed a study to find the types of assistance the sector requires.

Accordingly, the foundation organised a training workshop in Dhaka for the manufacturers and employers of sandal factories.

SME Foundation officials said it would initiate a pilot project to give training in various phases, to help set up more factories and create more employment in the long run.

Alam said the entrepreneurs also have poor storage facilities. Unsold goods from this season cannot be sold the following year as quality deteriorates.

The lawmaker urged financial institutions to stand by the manufacturers. “There are barriers to providing an access to funding for them. We have to remove these barriers.”

“In the past, many had to shut down their business for a fund dearth. They sold their land and some took loans at high interest rates.”

“There are a number of government vehicles, like SME Foundation, to help them. The foundation will try to find alternative sources of funding. I will also try to find such funds.”

The lawmaker said a second phase of the training would be held in Rajshahi, so that they can easily attend the programme.

“We will try to take the number of workers to 2,500 in the next three years from 450 now. We will move on, keeping this target in mind.”

Alam said an association of the shoemakers would be formed in Kaluhati to provide assistance in a more organised way. A generator, a stitching machine, an embroidery machine and a packaging machine would be provided through the association at a common service centre in the village, so that all members can get the benefits.

He said they have already provided loans to some entrepreneurs at low interest rates, and now, the foundation would talk to their allied funding agencies so that the makers get loans on a priority basis.
Alam said the present government, in its election manifesto, has promised to develop “one product in each district” for which the district has a special name. “We will try to do that in this area.”

Aftab ul Islam, chairperson of SME Foundation, said the entrepreneurs have to be given loans at a rate that helps them run the business in a more profitable way.

Syed Rezwanul Kabir, managing director of SME Foundation, said a bridge must be created between these small entrepreneurs and big companies. “We also need to help them in their supply chain management.”

Md. Shahriar Alam
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Md. Shahriar Alam

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