By Norma Tsopo
MUTARE – Handcrafts offer rich pickings for marginalised populations – women and the poor, if the sector is adequately supported.
Tied closely to the tourism sector, the handicraft sector has an estimated worth of $100 billion globally and contributes between five and 30 percent in 26 Coordination Committee for Development and Promotion of African Handicraft (CODEPA) member states in Africa.
Small and Medium Enterprises minister Sithembiso Nyoni who last month assumed the pan-African body’s chairmanship for a year says handicrafts could help the country’s economic growth and social stability by commercializing abundant craftsmanship skills in impoverished rural communities.
“Let our rural women benefit from the skills that their mothers gave them…we have been failing because we were removing women from things that their mothers taught them…we would like to conquer the world. Buhera baskets are renowned. Matobo basket is also very popular while our stone carvings are the best in the world,” Nyoni told her ministry’s strategic planning workshop earlier this year.
Nyoni said India was cashing in $4 billion annually while the sector was contributing 25 percent of the country’s GDP.
“Some of our works are among the best in the world and only need our support,” the minister noted.
Addressing over 250 delegates from CODEPA member-states at its ninth conference in Bulawayo recently Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda said although Africa had a numerical advantage with its more than a billion people and a diverse cultural base its handicraft industry was not being fully exploited.
“I am reliably informed that the global market value for handicraft is estimated to be at least US$100 billion with key markets being the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Japan and Hong Kong. And yet we find out that the handicraft production is currently dominated by China and India, as well as other Asian countries. Their position is based largely on low-cost high volume and Western-designed goods.
“The question is: where is the African artistic expression in handicrafts competitiveness? Africa has the huge demographic advantage,” Mundenda said.
CODEPA allows member states to access to premier international handicraft exhibitions, training in the field of technology and innovation, commercialization of handicrafts, creation of networks, marketing and distribution channels of handicrafts and sourcing of funding from technical and financial partners for the implementation of various projects.
Zimbabwe Applied Arts in Crafts Association president John Custom said after the conference his organisation had “made lots of business links” including being invited to the continent’s biggest handicrafts festival in Siao Burkina Faso in 2018.
He also said a research his organisation commissioned entitled The Crafts and Applied Arts Sub-sector in Zimbabwe: Strategies and Policies to Grow the Sub-Sector, the handicrafts sector contributes to household incomes amounts ranging from US$500 to US$15 000 per annum depending on region. Masvingo is at the low end, while Harare is the higher of that income continuum.
Custom said the tourism industry should also assist with availing opportunities for the sector by including craftsmen in international tours “as a way of marketing Zimbabwean cultural traditions”.
He also said the trade ministry could also support the sector by training people in the handicrafts sector on “ease of doing exports, provide events happening around the world for our participation and can link us with foreign trading partners”.
In 2016, Zimbabwe’s small to medium enterprises sector in which the handicrafts industry lies raked in around US$3,034 million in export receipts more than tripling from US$900 000 realized in 2009 following a raft of measures introduced by the government to help the sector.