There can be no denying the massive expansion of footwear making in the country, particularly of the low-end variety. The fact that inexpensive footwear caters to the demand of the vast majority of the people makes it clear that small manufacturing units scattered all over the country are doing a laudable job -- not just in meeting public demand but also in job creation, without any institutional help. In the capital itself as well as elsewhere in urban locations, shoes and sandals of almost all conceivable varieties are on display in small, makeshift shops and kiosks, even in open spaces occupied by hawkers.
A recent news report published in the FE gives a detailed picture of the flourishing small footwear making units in Bhairab under Kisoreganj district as well as the many difficulties these units encounter in running their business. One may find it surprising to know that footwear units in Bhairab are in thousands ---around fifteen thousand according to rough estimates. Understandably, a bulk of these units is very small run by 2-3 persons. Despite the small size and scale of operation, the workforce engaged in these units is estimated to be 60,000. One notable thing about the employment structure is that women workers account for a considerable share of the workforce - between 20-25 per cent.
There are similar clusters of shoe-making facilities in other parts of the country-in and around the capital Dhaka too. Over the years, there has been a radical improvement in the manufacturing process with the use of quality chemicals, dyes as well as better quality of leather, artificial leather and synthetic materials. With gradual upgrading from manual to semi-mechanised manufacturing, these footwear making facilities, however small, can potentially contribute to reducing reliance on import, especially of low-cost, medium-range footwear. It is here that their difficulties need to be addressed. This can be done through institutional support in an organised manner. One of the major problems facing these units is the absence of common facility centres close to the location of these units which can also help in technology transfer and quality assurance. Another equally important and persistent problem that deters these units to grow is the lack of credit facilities for procuring raw materials and other necessary accessories. This is because these units cannot provide collateral for bank loans as most of their businesses are small in terms of investment and annual turnover.
The Small and Medium Enterprise Foundation (SMEF) which is engaged in helping these units, especially in the form of training, should be more focused on their special needs. Such support may be in product development and marketing. Regrettably, these small footwear making units spread out in various clusters all over the country are yet to be recognised as a formal manufacturing segment. There is no authentic data on their production capacity or the workforce employed. In view of the state of things, it is high time that the government came up with some facilitating measures to help them grow up to their potential and contribute to the economy in a desired manner.
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