“Earlier we, as women, were only supposed to plough the earth or give birth to babies.
But after receiving the training, we now think of ourselves as something more.”
-Mrs.Tracy Muparutsa, bamboo basket weaver
As a part of the India Africa Forum Summit II, the National Institute of Design (NID) had undertaken a major design intervention project under the aegis of the Ministry of External Affairs and supported by the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India. The project focused on empowering the rural, women basketry weavers of five African countries starting from Zimbabwe.
The project aimed at income generation and empowering the rural, women artisans (mainly basket weavers) of Zimbabwe by using design as a tool for capability building. The prime purpose of this initiative has been to strategically reorient the craft traditions, practices and challenges encountered by the rural artisans through the use of design as a tool for employment generation and enhanced livelihood opportunities.
The project scope broadly entailed skills training and upgradation including training of trainers, product development & diversification and brand building of two women artisan groups through a systems design approach. A very thorough and methodical approach was followed to gain a broad overview of the problems the women artisans have been facing and how the indigenous resources and skills complimented by this design intervention, can be utilized to to empower these women by livelihood generation. The research also focused on the basketry craft scenario in Zimbabwe with particular focus on the nature of products and materials, artisan skills, mobilization of women weavers under NGOs, distribution and marketing channels, etc. This was achieved by closely studying the aforesaid aspects during the field visit to the interiors of rural Zimbabwe.
Meetings with various organisations and field trips revealed that the Land Reform Movement followed by repetitive droughts resulted in severe decline in agriculture sector in Zimbabwe, which was once called the food basket of the African continent. This was followed by the collapse of the tourism industry because of the political instability in the region further pushing these women artisans into the trap of poverty. But the most profound threat that Zimbabwe is facing right now is the vicious trap of HIV and Poverty.
The impact of HIV/AIDS on poverty ridden families of Zimbabwe is both directly in the form of cost of care, and indirectly by reducing the manpower and income of the family often creating inter-generational poverty by impoverishing surviving orphans (often forcing them out of school, thus limiting their livelihood options). In turn, poverty accelerates the onset of HIV/AIDS and tends to exacerbate the impact of the epidemic.
For a very large number of the HIV widows, sales of handmade baskets was the only source of cash to pay the school fees of their children. But since the Land Reform program of 2000 in Zimbabwe, tourism in the country has declined significantly so there are no buyers of their crafts. So after an extensive survey of the regions, resource and skill maps were plotted, and other resources and institutions were identified which could be of assistance in developing a sustainable income generation programme for the women. And using these resources, skill sets and further skills which were developed during the workshop, we tried to achieve the capability set which will allow these artisans to generate income and lead a life of choice.
After the initial research and field visits, it was decided that the design interventions will be implemented in two craft clusters as model clusters. It was a prerequisite that the artisans in these clusters must be mobilized as a group or under an NGO, rather than operating in isolation or on their own. This is due to the fact that a well organized group will be better suited to leverage the training inputs and converting them into an advantage not only for themselves, but also for fellow members. “Training of Trainers” approach was adopted for the program, therefore it was established that the participating artisans must have the ability to be trained as trainers, so that they are able to transmit their newly acquired learning and knowledge to other members of their group, thereby generating a multiplier impact. Based on the above mentioned criterion two groups were chosen, Zienzele Foundation weavers in Masvingo province and STEP Trust weavers in Hondey Valley. Most of the Zienzele Foundation craft clusters situated in Masvingo province are deeply stuck into poverty. Although the STEP Trust craft clusters situated in Honde Valley of Eastern Highlands don’t face droughts and water shortage, but still, due severe decline in tourism they have lost the supplementary source of income which they used to get by selling their crafts.
Zienzele Foundation: Traditionally, orphans in Africa have been taken in by relatives or neighbors. This tradition broke down in Zimbabwe because of increasing poverty and the deaths of many caregivers due to HIV-AIDS. The Zienzele Foundation was established in 2000, headed by Dr.Prisca Nemapare from Zimbabwe and Mrs.Nancy Clark from USA, in response to this growing crisis. Zienzele Foundation has been working for the welfare of the women and orphans in the region since a long time. The Foundation is also well aware of the problems women and children have been facing in the villages and has a long experience in dealing with them. It becomes an added advantage for the intervention programme, as the Zienzele Foundation can play a responsible role in the production and export of sisal products once NID team steps out of the region. In the process it was also realized that education/schools can be of great assistance if incorporated in our intervention programme. Therefore after understanding the craft, we did a skill and resource mapping in terms of availability of materials, infrastructure, institutions and other facilities. And based on these mappings we tried to deduce the possibilities in terms of products which can be made with the available resources in the immediate environment and will have higher value in the local and global market.
STEP Trust: STEP, an Environment and Development NGO, in Honde Valley was also included in the programme. Mrs.Ann Madzara, the Director, informed us that STEP’s calling is to transform the lives of local disadvantaged communities through facilitating their involvement in community tourism. The trust has also made provision for promoting community based tourism as a local action for sustainable natural resource management and also as a mitigation action against climate change impacts. The rural community crafts are probably some of the key attractions for community based tourism clients but these craft products are not of very good quality and therefore cannot fetch good value. As one of the newspapers report says- Sales of Zimbabwe’s basketry had evaporated with the death of Zimbabwean tourism. The situation was worsened by Zimbabwe’s general economic meltdown and global record-breaking inflation levels.
The collaboration with the STEP trust was aimed at ensuring that the marginalized local communities participate in, and benefit meaningfully from tourism business and helping the women in particular, to capitalize on the opportunity for growth, by assisting them in addressing the key challenges in this sector namely responsiveness skills and market access.
It was also very important to have a fair idea about the kind of markets in which the products developed in the design intervention workshops were to be sold. To get a clear idea about the markets, various craft trade reports regarding the production and export of crafts from Zimbabwe were studied and analyzed. Specially the reports from Zimtrade Organisation gave a fair idea of the scope of the craft sector, various existing distribution channels, the key export markets, various constraints (producer, trader, vendor) which the craft sector is facing which can be directly applied to basketry crafts. Several discussions were held with Managerial level people and government official from Zimbabwe and people who have worked extensively in craft sector in India to decide the direction of the intervention programme and also decide the market possibilities. After studying all the socio-economical aspects of the basketry sector in Zimbabwe and analyzing the market possibilities for the finished products a systems diagram was plotted to give direction to the programme.
A new set of hand operated tools to prepare the raw material for bamboo basketry was developed by the Indian Institute of technology. For sisal a machine which was being used in Uttarakhand, India for extracting a similar natural fiber was sourced and modified for the extraction of sisal fiber.
A new technique was devised for the sisal artisans which was way faster than the traditional weaving technique and consumed almost half the material required to finish a product of same size.
Templates and 3D moulds have been introduced for all the products that are voluminous to aid the artisans in standardisation of products when handling large orders. Taking this a step ahead, the participants were introduced to how effectively they can use various 3D objects available in their surroundings that could be used as moulds for different types of products such as lamps and baskets. The age old tradition of mud dying was revisited for dying bamboo in the Hondey Valley. The initial trials trials revealed that the iron rich soil oxidized the cellulose in bamboo and resulted in deep black colour. Discussions were held regarding cultivation of other better species of bamboo, as Honde valley has favorable soil and climate for cultivation. Also suggestion regarding indigenous treatment of bamboo were of great help in protecting finished products from borers. For example at what age the bamboo should be harvested, how can it be treated with running water and how boiling with locally grown tobacco can reduce the chances of them being infected by borers.
Plantation of sisal through the gardening programmes in schools was proposed to the women weavers. This will have the dual advantage of generating a sense of responsibility among the children towards their environment; and creating a constant and free of cost source of raw material for the weavers, who are at the moment required to buy sisal leaves for making the products. Free availability of the key raw material could significantly bring down the cost of the products.
The products developed during the third workshop were exhibited at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, on 10th November 2012. The purpose of the exhibition was to share the project’s outcomes as well its methodology with craft experts, craft enterprises, NGOs, policy makers, diplomats and the supporting Zimbabwean government agencies. In New Delhi between 2 and 6 March 2013, the NID staged an exhibition of the programme at the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts. The new range of products was showcased as an exhibition cum buyer seller meet titled Basketry Dialogues: Connecting Cultures. Shri Anand Sharma, India’s then Minister of Commerce and Industry and Textiles inaugurated it. A diverse mix of people visited Basketry Dialogues representing experts and professionals associated with crafts, buyers, designers, design students, the Zimbabwe’s Ambassador in India, diplomats, officials from the Ministry’s Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and also Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson, UPA.
Efforts have already been initiated to tie up the back end for production and marketing of the new ranges of products in Zimbabwe. The Zienzele Foundation and the STEP Zimbabwe show the new products at the Harare International Festival of the Arts scheduled which takes place at the end of April each year. NID supplied product spec sheets to Zienzele and STEP. Ms. Kudzayi Ngwerume, an upcoming craft entrepreneur who came to India as part of the management delegation, showed some of the products at Africa’s largest gift and homeware tradeshow, SARCDA in August 2013 and Design Indaba in Cape Town in February 2014.
“I want to buy a car with my baskets.”
-Daniel, bamboo basket weaver