Handicraft industry bounces back

Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

Amid all the destruction and loss of life caused by last year's Java earthquake, one often overlooked casualty was Yogyakarta's handicraft industry.

But a year after the May 27 quake, which devastated Yogyakarta and parts of Central Java, the industry is beginning to bounce back.

"After the quake, the wood used to make primitive-style statues was gone. And if there was any available, it was too expensive," said Bandiyah, 45, who crafts Pucung primitive-style statues in Pendowoharjo village in Sewon district, Bantul regency, Yogyakarta.

Following the quake, many handicraft makers were unable to restart production because there was no timber on the market, having all been channeled into reconstruction work.

Bandiyah said in the weeks and months after the quake, a cubic meter of teakwood branches with a diameter of about 10 cm cost Rp 800,000, a 100 percent increase from the previous price of Rp 400,000.

"Even the prices of other materials like glue and nails rose dramatically, meaning most handicraft makers could not start production."

But in the past two months, with most reconstruction work already finished, the handicraft industry has started to bounce back.

Bandiyah said that of around 35 statue-makers in Pucung hamlet, half have restarted production. Most of their output is destined for export markets in Australia and Europe.

The owner of Ungu gallery, Aji, said that despite the rising prices of materials, he had resisted passing on the costs to his buyers from Australia, Germany, Poland and Sweden.

"This means the profit is not much .... but it's better than doing nothing," said Aji.

He said before the quake his gallery exported three containers of statues a month, but that is now down to one.

Prices depend on statue size, with a 15-cm statue selling for Rp 40,000, up to Rp 150,000 for a two-meter statue.

After months of idleness, there is a new buzz at many of the handicraft production centers in Yogyakarta. These include the ceramic production center in Panjangrejo village in Pundong district, a leather production center in Mading and a wooden batik handicraft center in Krebet.

"Most handicraft businesses have restarted production, even if they are only using the simplest of tools," said Sakir, one of about 200 ceramic makers in Panjangrejo village.

The area's handicraft businesses were also helped by sympathetic buyers who understood the situation and pushed back delivery deadlines rather than cancel orders. Some buyers even put in larger orders, to help the businesses get back on their feet.

"We have been given time to meet orders because of the quake, and some buyers even increased their orders," said Hendro Seno, a bag maker from Gilangharjo village in Bantul.

According to data from the provincial trade, industry and cooperatives office, the earthquake affected 2,650 small and medium businesses.

The result of this can be seen in last year's exports from the province, which amounted to US$126 million, down from $143 million in 2005.
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