Splitting strands of dry grass in preparation for weaving them into baskets is seemingly a task many people may perceive to be menial. But for Ghanaian women in Bolgatanga, this exercise is bringing in fortunes.
Basket weaving has been a defining feature of African communities and for these Ghanaian women, it has changed their lives. Around 200,000 women in Bolgatanga (Bolga) are involved in basket weaving that are now commonly known as Bolga baskets. And they do this by hand.
When your community is not endowed with fertile soil for commercial cultivation, you turn to other ways that promote a sustainable livelihood. This is what the community of Bolga is doing through basket weaving. And it is easy for them because basket weaving is a traditional skill that is passed down from generation to generation.
Because basket weaving is now creating jobs, exporters are organizing the women undertaking this craft all year round, and they pay them so that they weave the Bolga baskets whose demand is high.
The non-traditional export sector which weaving baskets falls under contributes to 20% of Ghana's export trade. The main markets for these baskets are UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand. However, for most of the women who make these baskets, they are still poor. Weaving baskets is just a way of getting some extra income.
The country's export volumes as regards baskets is pretty much huge. Estimates provide that in 2017 Ghana exported about $800,000 worth of baskets to the international market. This alone then speaks volumes about the international interest in these traditional baskets.
Despite these impressive figures, which the country hopes to double, the women involved in making them cite many difficulties associated with their production. They complain about lack of decent places to sit while making them. Sheds are hardly available for them. Most of the baskets are made in leisure times due to these difficultiues and as a result productivity does not reach its full, optimum level. A room, a decent meeting place is all they need.
Logistics problems also come into play, as getting reliable transport is not easy. This problems gets worsened by the fact that the raw materials are not grown in Bolga. The straws are derived from the tropical Veta Vera grass grown in the southern part of Ghana. Bolga is in the north. So that creates a big problem.
Planting the Veta Vera grass in Bolga is one of the solutions being tabled to help reduce these problems.
"There's going to be a pilot run to see how the grass will do. Hopefully, if this does well in the Northern regions, it means we will have the grass readily available to weavers," Afua Asabea Asare, CEO of Ghana Export Promotion Authority, revealed to the CNN.
Creating conducive working conditions for these women will go a long way in making their easy. This will improve productivity, and the hopes of doubling the basket weaving sector's export sales will come to fruition.
Women's livelihoods will also significantly improve and there will always be incentives to help motivate the women.
Bit by bit, these women are turning basket weaving into a million dollar industry. And they need as much help that can be given to them.
Header image credit - CNN