The Upper East Region undoubtedly is the hub of handicraft and employs thousands of people. One of such works in the industry that is improving livelihoods in the region and making international impact is basket weaving.
The sector creates the biggest employment opportunities for poor rural women and the youth and is of great relevance to the economic empowerment of the less privileged and eradicating poverty in rural communities.
“It provides both direct and indirect jobs for the older and the younger population, boosting the economy through foreign exchange earnings, while having environmental and sanitation benefits”,
Mr Paul Akurugu, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Paku Enterprise Ghana, a basket exporting organisation in the Upper East Region in collaboration with the African Baskets Markets of Overseas Connection of the United States of America, both baskets exporting organizations have over the last 19 years worked together to empower rural women in some selected communities in the Bolgatanga Municipality and its environs, to produce quality baskets for export to the USA.
What is involved?
Even though the weaving can be tedious and takes a lot of discipline to join straws together to produce the beautiful hand-woven baskets for the market, thousands of women and youth in the region most predominantly in the Bolgatanga Municipality are happy to engage in the lucrative business.
Over the years, the people in the region depended on Agriculture for a living, but the erratic rainfall pattern and poor soil fertility made it difficult for the indigenes to go into commercial agricultural activities, so handiwork such as pottery and making and selling baskets served as a major source of income for them.
It is clear that Basket weaving is no tradition anymore as originally perceived since it is now making international impact and earning foreign exchange.
With the right investment, the sector has the potential to eradicate poverty and help attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly goals one and two.
History of Basket Weaving
An old folk tale has it that basket weaving was started in the Zaare Community, a suburb of Bolgatanga, many centuries ago when one lazy man who did not like to farm during the farming season, rather spent his time along the river banks plugging straw to make nets for birds.
As years passed by, he became innovative with his skill and started making hats and baskets out of the straw.
People saw that it was good and bought into the idea and begun to weave for sale and it spread across the entire region making it into the global market today.
Types of baskets
Baskets or hand-woven baskets as non-traditional export products are mostly made using straw called the vertiver grass or elephant grass as raw materials.
The grasses grow along rivers or water bodies and are known to be doing well in parts of the Brong-Ahafo and the Ashanti Regions.
Baskets are the most preferred containers used by many women for shopping.
There are different kinds of baskets that could be produced for different purposes. We have what is called ‘Moses basket’ or baby’s basket, Pen Basket, Pot Basket, Mini Basket, Dog Basket, V-shaped basket, Umbrella Holder, Fruit Basket and many more and these baskets are used for different purposes.
Ms Augustina Alebsinaba, a 2018 graduate of the Bolgatanga Girls Senior High School (BOGISS) is one of the thousands of school children in the region whose parents depended on basket weaving to cater for their daily and school needs.
She told this writer that she learnt weaving baskets when she was a small child and had learnt it from her Mother Mrs Grace Akunzaaya.
She said it was the only source of income the family had to depend on to buy food to supplement the subsistence farming that they did every farming season.
Her mother also used the proceeds from basket weaving to pay for other needs of the family, including school fees and hospital bills.
She said “had it not been the basket weaving, I don’t know what my siblings and I would have done to survive each day and even go to school up to the SHS level”.
In the Upper East Region, over 200,000 women and youth are engaged in vertiver grass basket weaving and are making millions of Ghana Cedis from the job.
According to the CEO of Paku Enterprise Ghana, the export organisations have provided direct jobs to over 2,000 women in various communities including; Sokabisi, Zorbisi, Sherigu, Zaare, Sumbrungu, Nyariga and Yikene communities, all in the Bolgatanga Municipality through the baskets weaving.
There are numerous of women groups in other communities such as Asoegoom, Bongo, Zorko, Sirigu and other communities who are engaged in the weaving of basket for sale.
He said apart from they (export organizations) supporting the women to weave the quality and durable baskets for export to the United States, many people, not under their operational zones, on each Bolgatanga market day troop to his office to sell their woven baskets.
Basket weaving in the country has not only offered employment avenues to the weavers, but many different people and companies including; the dye companies, sacks companies, transport companies, financial institutions and marketing firms among others.
He said they also spend more than GHC10,000.00 every week to buy leather to make handles, while the dye is usually imported from Nigeria. This means jobs are being created for leather and dye as well as transportation industries.
Boosting the economy
According to statistics from the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA), basket weaving which falls under the non-traditional export sector, contributes about 20 per cent of the country’s export trade. For instance, in 2017, Ghana exported roughly $800,000 worth of baskets to the international market in the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand, and the demand keeps on increasing.
Mr Steven Karowe, the President of the African Basket Market, the Overseas Connection of the USA, said a lot of countries were interested in Ghanaian baskets due to the fact that they were made of high quality straw and durable.
He said many people in America preferred the Bolgatanga baskets and the basket market over the years was increasing as they could not meet the demands.
Mr Akurugu revealed that in every three weeks, their organizations export two 20-footer and 40-footer containers of baskets to the US and that did not even meet the international demand.
The CEO said on every Bolgatanga Market day, which is every third day, GHC50,000.00 to GHC100,000.00 was spent to purchase the baskets.
The small or normal size baskets cost between GHC30.00 to GHC35.00 while the big baskets particularly the ‘Moses baskets or baby’s cost about GHC200.00 to GHC250.00 each.
The basket industry especially in the Upper East Region had the potential to turn the fortunes of the country around as earned the country millions of foreign exchange, which is essential for socio-economic development.
Baskets as Tourist Attractions
Baskets are also seen as tourist attraction that can generate enough revenue for the Municipal and Districts Assemblies. Investing in baskets and encouraging their patronage has other benefits to the economy including’ sanitation as they are good alternatives to deal with the plastic menace confronting the country.
Corporate Social Responsibilities
Apart from building weaving centres for some communities to promote effective weaving and improve quality of weaving, the supporting organisations, have further undertaken lots of corporate social responsibilities across the beneficiary communities.
They have periodically organised capacity building training for all the weavers especially on new product development to produce products that meet international competitiveness and are of high demand.
Mr Karowe indicated that last year, the organisations supported about 4,000 women weavers and their families in the beneficiary communities to either register or renew their National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) membership cards and have done same this year to enable the women to have access to quality health care.
Apart from this, they have over the years supplied basic schools in the communities with educational materials such as books, pens, pencils and many more to promote effective teaching and learning.
The major challenge confronting the straw industry in the region is the difficulty in getting the straw to start the weaving. The vertiver grass has gone extinct in the region and is bought from the Brong-Ahafo and Ashanti Regions and are quite expensive, considering cost of transport.
As an exporter, Mr Akurugu said the demand for Ghanaian baskets at the international markets keep on increasing, but the high interest rates of the bank loans were making it difficult for the exporters to meet the demand.
Recommendations and Conclusion
Making the sector more attractive would encourage more people especially the youth to join the trade to reduce the spate of unemployment and poverty as well as generate foreign exchange for the country to boost the economy.
Whilst calling on the Assemblies to construct a market space for all the weavers to sell their products, there is also the need for the government to create an enabling environment for banks to grant interest free loans to the exporters.
Government, through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture can also strategise to support farmers in northern Ghana particularly, the Upper East Region to cultivate the straw in the region.
This would ensure that the raw materials are readily available at minimal cost.
GNA feature by Anthony Adongo Apubeo,