Oct 14, 2015- Nearly two dozen workshops that specialise in making khukuris, popularly known as Gurkha knives, have been shut down in the eastern region due to the closure of the Nepal-China trade route at Tatopani in Sindhupalchok district.
China has been a major market for Nepali khukuris for the last four years, and demand has been growing. Around 70 percent of the output s exported to the northern neighbour. Locals said they had not been able to ship their products to market after the April 25 earthquake blocked the highway to China.
As exports to China have stopped completely, a large number of locals have been put out of their traditional job. Many people here eke out a living by selling khukuris. Prices range from $20 to $400 in the international market depending on the quality.
Last year, China had restricted khukuri imports, but it had not affected business much, traders said. Of the total 30 khukuri manufacturing plants in the eastern region, only six are still operating. “While most of the factories have shut down, those still operating are struggling to survive,” said Deepak Bishwokarma, president of the Nepal Khukuri Entrepreneurs Association. “Traders have been exporting khukuris by shipping them to the Chinese market by themselves,” said Bishwokarma, who is also the proprietor of Gorkhali Khukuri Industry.
He added that despite a growing market, the road blockade had severely affected business. “As khukuri manufacturers have taken huge loans from banks for running capital, they are now struggling to even pay the interest on them.” Dharan is the top producer of khukuris in the eastern region. There are half a dozen big and a dozen small factories here. Besides Dharan, these traditional knives are produced in Jhapa, Itahari, Dhankuta and Bhojpur.
Khukuris are exported to China from Thamel, said traders. They are a top souvenir item among tourists. A sharp fall in tourist arrivals in Thamel after the earthquake has also hit business.
“I am struggling to run my business,” said Bishwokarma, adding that he had downsized his workforce to 15 from 60 because of the slump. Bishwokarma said that he had lost Rs70 million in the last six months due to the closure of the highway at Tatopani. “Even the decade-long Maoist insurgency had not affected the khukuri business this hard.”
Traders said that after China, Russia was the second largest export market accounting for nearly 20 percent of khukuri exports.
However, due to political tensions in Russia, exports have dropped to zero. Khukuris are known as a traditional handicraft item and are in huge demand in overseas markets.
However, the government has not accorded priority to exports of this product. “If the government moves to boost exports of this product, thousands of Dalits will get employment, and they could be a source of foreign currency,” Bishwokarma said.
Published on: The Kathmandu Post (Oct 14, 2015)