Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on local basket-weaving industry

Rwandan basket weavers are urging Rwandans to buy locally produced baskets . / Sam Ngendahimana

Rwandan basket weavers are urging Rwandans to buy locally produced baskets since most of the products were previously exported.

 ‘Agaseke’, or Rwandan traditional basket has been a very essential part of everyday Rwandan life that started many years back in Ruhango District and later expanded to other parts of the country.

 

They are culturally hand-woven for different purposes from storage use, household use-gifts for special occasions like harvesting day and others.

 

Irebe Baskets Rwanda cooperative is one of the cooperatives that was started by a young Fraterne Ngiruwosanga in 2015 gathering traditional weavers from Byimana Sector of Ruhango District of whom the vast majority of weavers are ladies, community youth, single parent households and others.

 

It makes a variety of baskets and souvenir gifts, woven bowls, trays, home use stuff, bags and purses, jewelry and accessories from locally available and sustainable such as banana leaf and sisal, raffin, papyrus, palm and others.

However, Fraterne Ngiruwosanga who is the President of the cooperative which has 90 members says that few of local clients buy the basket products.

“The Challenge is that Rwandans do not value locally produced baskets saying that they are expensive yet it requires three days for a member to produce one basket. They should value the efforts, time and raw materials invested,” he said.

Clients from the East African Community especially Kenya make 30 per cent of those who buy our products, South Africa make 20 per cent, USA and Europe make 20 per cent while the rest are sold to local clients , he explained

“Most of our products are exported. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit we lost a big market as flights had stopped. When Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the orders we had made from abroad were cancelled and therefore we realized that promoting local consumption among Rwandans is paramount,” he said.

Due to lack of market, he said, some members who had loans from the cooperative could not pay back immediately due to Covid-19 that affected supply.

“There are many products worth over $3,000 we had produced for clients but were not delivered to them abroad. For example, I have products for clients in South Africa but could not be supplied because the flight cost has increased and the post office no longer delivers to South Africa,” he said.

Last year, the cooperative exported $30,000 worth of products.

 “This year we had orders for $50,000 products from Europe but cancelled due to Covid-19,” he said.

Kigali market and going online

Ngiruwosanga said that in order to leverage the local market, the cooperative which is largest producer of locally handmade baskets in Rwanda has recently opened shop in Kacyiru sector, Kigali city.

“To recover from Covid-19 impact, this is an effort to bring the beautiful baskets collection closer to Kigali residents and their country wide customers,” he said.

We will also go online this month, he noted.

The cooperative weaving basket project got Rwf500, 000 award in 2015 from YouthConnekt initiative, a platform designed to connect youth with various opportunities for their socio-economic transformation.

To set up the cooperative, each of 90 members of the cooperative in rural areas generated over Rwf50, 000 from basket weaving per month and the savings are used in agribusiness where they live.

The savings, Ngiruwosanga said, will help to set up their own working place.

Jeannette Mukanyandwi, a 45-year old member of the cooperative said that she started weaving baskets at 18 years old when she was a student.

“When we get enough orders, I make between Rwf40, 000 and Rwf50, 000 per month with a few days of work per week. If we work all days, the income can be much more. We do it at the same time doing other rural activities such as farming,” she said.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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