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General News Sun, 8 Sep 2019

Revamping basket industry for jobs, poverty reduction: Paku Enterprise Ghana sets the pace

The Upper East Region of Ghana is home to myriads of authentic handicraft products. Majority of the indigenes however, depend heavily on basket weaving to earn extra income to supplement gains made from subsistence farming, petty trading, and rearing of animals.

Even though the handicraft industry in the region which is centered on the weaving of baskets and hats, production of leather works such as bags, puffs, and bracelets as well as textile weaving and its subsequent sewing into smocks. have assisted in varied ways to draw attention to Bolgatanga and the Upper East Region as a whole, the woven grass products affectionately referred to as ‘Bolga baskets’ could be said to have played a greater role in putting Bolgatanga on the world handicraft and tourist map.

The industry is predominantly a cottage-based preoccupation of the indigenes of Bolgatanga, Talensi, Nabdam and Bongo, all in the Region has the greatest potentials for self-employment. The traditional skill which has been handed down from generation to generation provides employment to approximately 10,000 people, mostly women.

To quote from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Paku Enterprise Ghana, Mr Paul Akurugu, “The basket Industry is the biggest job creation avenue in Ghana that competes with the cocoa sector. It is also one of the major sectors that could be used to fight poverty, climate change and variability as well as curb rural-urban migration among the youth in the Upper East Region of Ghana”, indicates.

The Paku Enterprise Ghana, based in Bolgtanga in the Upper East Region is an indigenous firm that is primarily into production and export of authentic Bolga baskets and other handicraft products and collaborate with its main business partner ,the African Market Baskets of the Overseas Connection, Ltd., located in Boulder, Colorado of the United States of America (USA) to export basket products from the region to the USA for sales.

According to the CEO of the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA)-Ms Afua Asabea Asare, Ghana in 2017 alone exported roughly $800,000 or N280 million worth of baskets to the international market. According to the CEO , through the export of Bolgatanga basket to key markets such as the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand, the sector is increasing its sales potential.

But what caught my attention most to compose this piece was when I visited a friend at Sokabisi, a suburb of the Bolgatanga Municipality and saw about 100 women in a group engaged in weaving different types of baskets for onward sale.

I approached the group and I was told that they are jointly supported by Paku Enterprise Ghana and the African Market Baskets of the Overseas Connection of USA with raw materials to carry out large scale production of the baskets for onward supply to the two organizations for export.

The group further indicated that the off takers pay them prices equal to the prevailing market prices and hence saving them the hustle of having to travel to the market centre.

Based on this preliminary discovery, I probed further and realised that Paku Ghana Enterprise and its partner, the African Market Baskets of the Overseas Connection of USA have helped women and men in the weaving communities to establish over 20 weaver groups that specialise in commercial production of assorted baskets for sale. The two organizations have also constructed befitting weaving centres with store rooms for all the weaver groups to enhance cohesion among group members.

“The business activities and social support of these two organizations in our weaving communities have provided jobs to many of us not only in our community, but also in other communities including Zorbisi, Sherigu, Zaare, Sumbrungu, Nyariga and Yikene. Through the commercial basket weaving and onward supply to Paku Enterprise and its partner, we the women are able to support our husbands to cater for our children education and other family needs”, Mrs Adukoma Nyama, one of the leaders of the Sokabisi Female Basket Weavers Association told me.

Types of Baskets Preferred by International Markets

Sharing with me on the types of basket they weave, the weaver group leaders indicated that they have been empowered by the two organizations to weave baskets that are preferred by the clients in the international markets. These include the Moses Baskets (Baby Court), Food Baskets, Pet Baskets, Laundry Baskets and Fruit Baskets among others.

Employment Creation and Poverty Reduction Through The Basket Industry

According to the CEO of Paku Enterprise Ghana, Mr Paul Akurugu Mr. Akurugu, one of the potentials of the basket industry is its potential for sustainable job creation, poverty reduction and decrease in rural urban migration among others.

According to Mr Akurugu, his company spends between 60,000 and 70,000 US dollars to ship a 20-footer container of assorted baskets every three weeks to the USA for sales. He further indicated that his firm purchases the baskets from the weaver groups at prevailing market prices of the various types and quality of baskets.

The CEO further noted that the firm spends between GHS 16,000 and GHS 25,000 in procurement of not less than 600 assorted baskets on every Bolgatanga market day (that is every 3 days) from the various basket weavers.

He stated that although there are many countries like Kenya, Gambia, Vietnam and China among others that produce baskets globally, that of Ghana stands out because of the authenticity, quality, durability and cultural attachments of the baskets. Ghanaian baskets are the most preferred baskets by customers at the global basket market level.

According to Mr Akurugu apart from the fact that his firm and its partner creating over 2,000 direct jobs for weavers composed of women, men and the youth in the region, there are also thousands of indirect jobs created along the value chain. These include leather works, cultivation of straw, twisters of the straw, sack producers, transport, distribution and sales among others.

He added that following the increasing rate of youth unemployment in the region and country, many young people in the region including Person with Disabilities (PWDs) are now taking charge of their future by taking advantage of the job opportunities created by the basket industry.

Mr. Solomon Azure, an orphan and one of the youth beneficiaries of the Paku Enterprise Ghana, stated that apart from him being able to cater for his education up to the tertiary level relying on the basket weaving industry, some of his colleagues also accomplished their education dreams through same trade, others also built houses and bought motor bikes through the basket trade.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Additionally, as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility , Paku Enterprise in collaborate with the African Market Baskets of the Overseas Connection of USA often partner with the National Health Insurance Scheme(NHIS) annually to register and renew the NHIS subscriptions of all members of the weaver groups, including their children.

For instance whilst the two organizations in 2018 collaborated with the NHIS to register and renew about 4,000 members of the basket weaver groups and their children in the region, this year (2019), the number registered and renewed was a little more than 4,000 weavers and their children within the weaver groups.

The two organizations also annually donates education materials such as reading and text books, pens, pencils, mathematics set, and computers among other to pupils of basic schools within the basket producing communities.

Challenges

Key players in the industry mentioned the difficulty in accessing loans from the financial institutions especially high interest rate loan charged by the Banks making it difficult for them to expand the quantities of baskets they export.

They also complained that after several applications to the Ghana Exim Bank seeking loan facilities for production and export, the bank failed to provide export loans to boost their handicraft export.

Furthermore , environmental degradation such as bush fires have led to the burning of large tracks of vertiver grass used as raw material for weaving baskets , creating shortages of the raw materials.

In sum, the Bolga basket production and export business is very lucrative and has the potential to create thousands of sustainable jobs along the value chain for the growing unemployed youth of the Upper East Region as well as reduce poverty, rural-urban migration.

Aside the urgent need for the GEPA to help handicraft exporters like Paku Enterprise Ghana access production and export loan facilities from the Ghana EXIM Bank to expand production and export. , there is also the need for Central Bank to work towards reducing the interest rates of loans granted by financial institutions to local handicraft producers and exporters like Paku Enterprise Ghana grow and become beneficial to the national economy and society.

Source: Samuel Adadi Akapule