Musanze women potters eye international market

Dealing in pottery business has for long been associated with low income and hand-to-mouth kind of life. For Marie Mukandorera, this kind of life had become sort of the norm. However, the situation changed with the formation of pottery co-operatives.

Dealing in pottery business has for long been associated with low income and hand-to-mouth kind of life. For Marie Mukandorera, this kind of life had become sort of the norm. However, the situation changed with the formation of pottery co-operatives.

The resident of Musanze District is one of the hundreds of women that subscribe to one of the 12 pottery co-operatives in the district. Mukandorera is the most experienced artisan among the women involved in moulding clay and other raw materials to create unique earthenware products, and started the trade at a tender age. 

 

She says the group’s fortunes were to further change for the better following a partnership between the pottery co-operatives and Musanze-based project by Red Rocks Backpackers Campsite in Nyakinama village. The partnership has created a platform for vulnerable women, giving them opportunities to earn sustainable income to support their families and communities.

 

Mukandorera narrates; “I started doing pottery at an early age during the reign of King Mutara Rudahigwa. I was 10 years old when I made the first clay cup...my mother was an exceptional potter in our village. In fact, most of the people in our community were potters.”

 

For the love of pottery

After falling in love with pottery, Mukandorera decided to make a career out of the trade, and it is her full-time job presently.

“Initially, I never thought of pottery as a lifetime job. However, after creating unique clay vessels with my own fingers, I fell in love with pottery. Besides, it’s the heritage my parents bequeathed me,” says the 70-year-old resident of Muhoza sector, Musanze district in the Northern Province.

Mukandorera currently makes vases, charcoal stoves, cups, plates, and dishes, among others, which she sells to households, shops, and offices.

She says she earns Rwf100,000 per month, noting that the earnings from pottery have enabled her to cater for all her family’s basic needs. She adds the co-operative movement and the partnership with Red Rocks have helped them get better markets and earn more from their efforts. However, this was never the case a few years back.

Enter Red Rocks

Like the other women working with Red Rocks, Mukandorera was always struggling to get sustainable markets for her products. However, that is history as the project has enabled the disadvantaged and rural poor women to find better buyers within Rwanda and as far as the US and Europe.

“Previously, it was always a struggle to sell our products but all that is now history,” she says. “In fact, if all goes well, I will soon be travelling to Senegal for a study tour. This is one of the opportunities brought by our partnership with the camping site,” she explains.

According to Greg Bakunzi, the co-founder of Red Rocks, the project brings together women potters and other disadvantaged women from nine co-operatives. The project is supported by the firm’s community development initiative, where women are facilitated through different women empowerment programmes. The organisation connects them with buyers, and training opportunities to help improve their skills, production capacity and quality to be able to earn better returns from their businesses, Bakunzi says.

“We feel it’s our responsibility especially as a company dealing in cultural tourism where there’s a huge demand of cultural products when tourists come here in Rwanda. He says, apart pottery, other women do basket weaving, while yet more are involved in beer brewing, among others. For Mukandorera, pottery is “part of our tradition; we treasure it.”

Promoting pottery

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The master potter shows off the completed bowl. (Julius Bizimungu.)

The government has been promoting the pottery industry, particularly by encouraging the potters to work in co-operatives where they can easily be supported. These efforts are being spearheaded by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and other line institutions. Sector players have also been encouraged to embrace new technologies, especially in marketing and production processes to make quality products that can compete at the international level.

Pottery has in fact been touted as one of the areas that can help the country diversify further its exports base and export earnings.

Besides, as part of promoting Made-in-Rwanda products, the government supports various initiatives undertaken by the pottery industry and helps them find new and better markets. For instance, the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) has started a ceramic products promotion project in Nyanza District that is estimated to cost between Rwf300 million and Rwf500 million to implement.

It is anticipated that the factory will create more jobs and widen the country’s tax base and export volumes and value.

Mukandorera and the other members of the 12 pottery co-operatives in Musanze believe that once they are given full support, including training, they will be able to produce quality products and help reduce the import bills brought by such items.

“We can make cups and other products which Rwandan traders buy from abroad. There is no reason for Rwandans to spend more money buying the products from abroad, yet similar products are produced here,” she said. She adds that it is the patriotic duty of every citizen to promote locally-made products.

Meanwhile, Mukandorera urges women and youth not to shun ‘small’ jobs arguing that they can always use them as a stepping-stone to better and more fulfilling opportunities.

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