An Economic Assessment of Asian Crafts

  • Simon Ellis
  • Joseph Lo


Asia and the Pacific has undergone rapid economic growth and many countries are able to compete at the global level. Up until now crafts have kept many elements of traditional production, but they are under increasing threat from globalized tastes and industrialization. The paper argues that governments should adopt strategies to support crafts against these trends. Firstly Asian craft production follows the patterns of sustainable development. Data from surveys in several countries also indicates that craft production still meets a substantially local demand, and that financial support for production is also substantially local. Craft producers are very creative but are usually from an older generation with lower levels of education, making their occupation very vulnerable in modernizing societies. However, when such craft skills are able to access international markets, as in the case of Thai jewellery, they can be extremely competitive. Craft production in Asia thus presents a unique sustainable mode of production that can, if supported, be a key cultural asset and an element of future local and national competitiveness.


Asian crafts Craft production Sustainable development Financial support 


Acknowledgements and Note on Sources

Simon Ellis worked on national statistics in Thailand 2012–2014 for UNESCO, and in the Philippines 2015–2017 for the Non-Timber Forest Product Group. This research involved direct collaboration with the national statistics offices of Thailand and the Philippines, as well as a Visiting Lectureship at Institute of Statistics, University of the Philippines at Diliman in April 2017.

Joseph Lo is currently a Curator for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He was the lead technical officer for the implementation of craft surveys in Bhutan, China 2009/2010, and Indonesia 2014 for UNESCO and UNDP.


  1. Algida. 2007. Estudio de Mercado sobre Producciones Artesanales en los Territorios que component la acción conjunta de cooperación Artesanos Rurales Andaluces. Rome: Junta de Andalucia & Partners.Google Scholar
  2. Asia Development Bank and National Statistics Bureau of Bhutan. 2013. Bhutan Living Standards Survey 2012. Mandaluyong City: Asian Development Bank.Google Scholar
  3. Askerud, P. 2010. Bhutan Cultural Industries Sector Development; A Baseline Report 2009. Thimphu: Ministry of Culture/Nat Bur Stats/UNDP.Google Scholar
  4. Askerud, P., and J. Lo. 2013. Bhutan Weavers Survey 2010. Thimphu: Ministry of Culture/Nat Bur Stats.Google Scholar
  5. Banerjee, A., E. Duflo, R. Glennerster, and C. Kinnian. 2015. The Miracle of Microfinance? Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7 (1): 22–53.Google Scholar
  6. Cheewatrakoolpong, K., and S. McKenzie. 2013. Specific Trade Facilitation Measures to Promote Export of Traditional Knowledge Based Goods—A Case Study of Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom. ARTNeT Working Paper No. 123, Bangkok, ESCAP.Google Scholar
  7. Claymone, Y. 2010. A Perspective on Culture and Technology Transfer of OTOP in Thailand: A Lesson from Japan. International Journal of East Asian Studies 15 (1): 111–118.Google Scholar
  8. Cohen, E. 2000. The Commercialized Crafts of Thailand: Hill Tribes and Lowland Villages. Richmond: Curzon.Google Scholar
  9. Curtis, F. 2003. Eco-localism and Sustainability. Ecological Economics 46 (1): 83–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dept of Agriculture. 2015. Abaca Value Chain Analysis Region V–Bicol Region. Philippine Rural Development Program.Google Scholar
  11. Echavarria, M. 2013. Craft as a Tool for Empowerment. In World Crafts Council ed. Celebrating Crafts Kaivalam, Chennai, pp. 45–48.Google Scholar
  12. Ellis, S. 2014. Turning Craft into GDP in the Caucasus. In Notion of Culture as a Force for Economic Growth—New Approach for South Caucasus, ed. S. Ellis, 27–35. Tbilisi: GACC.Google Scholar
  13. Ellis, S. 2015. Measuring Traditional Skills (Taking Stock of What We Have Before We Lose It); Craft Statistics A Way Forward. Washington, DC: Aspen Inst.Google Scholar
  14. Fonchingong, C.C., and N.F. Lotsmart. 2003. The Concept of Self-Reliance in Community Development Initiatives in the Cameroon Grassfields. Nordic Journal of African Studies 12 (2): 196–219.Google Scholar
  15. Galtung, J., et al. (eds.). 1980. Self-Reliance: A Strategy for Development. London: Bogle L’Ouverture Publications.Google Scholar
  16. Gibbs, K. 2013. The Artisan Entrepreneur in the Global Market Economy. In Notion of Culture as a Force for Economic Growth, ed. S. Ellis, 95–98. Tbilisi: GACC.Google Scholar
  17. Godfrey, P.C. 2008. What Is Economic Self-Reliance? ESR Rev 10: 4–8.Google Scholar
  18. Howkins, J. 2007. The Creative Economy, 2nd ed. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  19. International Labour Organization. 2015. Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204): Recommendation Concerning the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy. 104th ILC Session, Geneva, Switzerland. Available at Accessed 7 June 2017.
  20. Jayachandran, S. 2006. Selling Labor Low: Wage Responses to Productivity Shocks in Developing Countries. Journal of Political Economy 114: 538–575.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kanthachai, N. 2013. A Study of Development Strategies for OTOP in Chiang Rai. SIU Journal of Management 3 (1): 112–122.Google Scholar
  22. Kenan. 2009. Economic Contribution of Thailand’s Creative Industries. Kenan Institute Asia and Fiscal Policy Research Institute.Google Scholar
  23. Kim, I., and I. Muhammad. 2013. Self-Reliance: Key to Sustainable Rural Development in Nigeria. ARPN Journal of Science and Technology 3 (6): 585–591.Google Scholar
  24. Lo, J. 2011. Chinese Ethnic Minorities Participatory Artisan Survey and Needs Assessment Report. UNESCO/Chinese Arts and Crafts Assoc.Google Scholar
  25. Lo, J. 2014. Borobudur Cultural Mapping Report and Artisan Baseline Survey 2014. Jakarta: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  26. Murayama, H. (ed.). 2012. Significance of the Regional One-Product Policy—How to Use the OVOP/OTOP Movements. Thailand: Ritsumeikan University.Google Scholar
  27. Natsuda, K., K. Igusa, A. Wiboonpongse, A. Cheamuangphan, S. Shingkharat, and J. Thoburn. 2011. One Village One Product—Rural Development Strategy in Asia: The Case of OTOP in Thailand. RCAPS Working Paper 11.3, Ritsumeikan University.Google Scholar
  28. Ngoc, L.B. 1994. Export Potential Assessment of Arts and Crafts in Vietnam. Geneva: UNCTAD/VIetrade.Google Scholar
  29. Nkubana. 2013. Power of the Handmade. In World Crafts Council ed Celebrating Crafts Kaivalam, Chennai, pp. 186–188.Google Scholar
  30. Nyshadham, A. 2013. Learning About Comparative Advantage in Entrepreneurship: Evidence from Thailand. Available at Accessed 26 May 2017.
  31. OECD. 2011. OECD Studies on SMEs and Entrepreneurship Thailand: Key Issues and Policies. Paris: OECD.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Phadungkiati, L., K. Kusakabe, and P. Pongquan. 2011. Working for Money or Working for the Group? Community-Based Women’s Rural Enterprises in Chainat Province Under the OTOP Project. SIU Journal of Management 1 (2): 39–72.Google Scholar
  33. PRUDA. 2010. Census of Handicraft Artisans. Office of the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), Ministry of Textiles, Government of India.Google Scholar
  34. Punyasavatsut, C. 2008. SMEs in the Thai Manufacturing Industry: Linking with MNES. In SME in Asia and Globalization, ERIA Research Project Report 2007–2005, ed. H. Lim, 287–321.Google Scholar
  35. Respicio, N. 2014. Journey of a Thousand Shuttles; The Philippine Weaver. Manila: NCCA.Google Scholar
  36. Ruzek, W. 2014. The Informal Economy as a Catalyst for Sustainability. Sustainability 7 (1): 23–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Samphantharak, K., and R. Townsend. 2013. Risk and Return in Village Economies. Available at Accessed 26 May 2017.
  38. TBR. 2012. Mapping Heritage Craft: The Economic Contribution of the Heritage Craft Sector in England. London: Creative and Cultural Skills/BIS.Google Scholar
  39. Tobgye, S.L. n.a. Education in Bhutan—Past, Present and Future: A Reflection. Available at Accessed 26 May 2017.
  40. UIS. 2009. 2009 UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics. Montreal: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.Google Scholar
  41. UNESCO Bangkok. 2005. The Jodhpur Initiatives: A Strategy for the 21st Century. Bangkok: UNESCO Bangkok Regional Unit for Culture in Asia and the Pacific.Google Scholar
  42. UNESCO Bangkok. 2007. Statistics on Cultural Industries: Framework for the Elaboration of National Data Capacity Building Projects. Bangkok: UNESCO Asia and Pacific Bureau for Education.Google Scholar
  43. UN Thailand. 2011. United Nations Partnership Framework Thailand 2012–6. Bangkok: UN.Google Scholar
  44. Wherry, F. 2008. Global Markets and Local Crafts: Thailand and Costa Rica Compared. Baltimore: John Hopkins.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon Ellis
    • 1
  • Joseph Lo
    • 2
  1. 1.MontrealCanada
  2. 2.Smithsonian InstitutionWashington, DCUSA

Personalised recommendations