The Government of Lesotho has received funding from the International Development Association (IDA) in support of the second phase of the Private Sector Competitiveness Project and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP).
The key objective of the project is to facilitate increased participation of the private sector in the economy by creating conditions for improving its productivity and competitiveness. One of the key sectors for development under the project is the export market within which handcrafts is the most important contributor.
The development of a solid, competitive handcraft industry has been recognized by the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture (MTEC) as a vital component of strengthening the tourism sector. Additionally, the handcrafts sector offers potential for income generation and livelihood development through the domestic, regional and export markets. However, the country’s handcraft sector is at a critical transition point. It experienced growth in the early 2000s but is now facing a fast-changing, more competitive marketplace and needs support to adjust to new trends. Targeted support in these areas will result in improved livelihoods for marginalized populations including women. Development of the handcraft sector will also strengthen the tourism value chain through creating diversified product offerings. By leveraging and building upon existing handcraft development models, the current assignment will improve the livelihoods of artisans by enabling their capacity to increase their revenues. Specifically, the objective will be achieved through establishing sustainable market linkages to tourist, domestic and export markets and through a new handcraft market outlet to be developed in Maseru.
The workshop aimed at capacity building of the artisans for income generation and livelihood development. The methodology adopted for conducting the workshop required to gain an indepth understanding of the basketry craft sector in the country with particular focus on the nature of products and materials, artisanal skills, mobilization of women weavers under cooperatives, distribution and marketing channels, etc. The initial field trips by Ms. Elaine Bellezza, the Project Manager, were very helpful in identifying the craft clusters who had the required skill set and the entrepreneurial spirit to participate in the workshop and the basketry artisans from the Butha Buthe region were chosen for the first workshop. Elaine’s expertise on value chain and her thorough understanding of the international craft market provided a solid foundation to the workshop in terms of market requirement. It was decided that we would be developing middle market products for US and Europe, utilizing the existing techniques which the artisans have been using to make hats till now. While a range of new designs and techniques were introduced to the artisans, the methodology of delivering the inputs very consciously facilitated a collaborative manner of functioning between the designer and the participating weavers. This inclusive approach led to a closer involvement of the weavers resulting in a great sense of pride and ownership.
Twenty basket weavers were directly brought under the purview of training as participants who have benefited from the project. These artisans were trained as trainers who would be later imparting the training to their fellow artisans. A group of artisans was chosen who were best in their respective techniques to look after the production of newly developed products as master artisans. Using the material available in the region four new collections of products were developed which have a promising market potential, both domestic and international. The artisans were introduced to the concept of using templates and molds for making their products. This would lead to standardization of products in terms of shape and size when they would be handling large orders. It was made sure that most of the products developed during the workshops are stackable for the ease of transport and export.
A second workshop is scheduled in March 2015 which will be followed by a series of other workshops in other crafts. Apart from basketry craft the second workshop will focus on product development in textile sector. The newly developed designs use a variety of locally available grasses and reeds. It would be very important to identify the raw material resources in the region and also find out weather they are seasonal and the quantity in which they grow. This exercise would be very important when the artisans are going to handle large orders. As there are very few options of dyes available in the region, it restricts the kind of variety that the artisans could achieve if they had more options of dyes available in the region. It would be advisable to source more dyes from Maseru or South Africa to expand the repertoire of products that the artisans are making. Since the first prototypes of a lot of products have already been developed by the artisans in the first workshop, it would be very important to focus on the standardization of products and their stackability in the following workshop. A costing and pricing workshop for the newly developed products will be conducted for the artisans. The marketing consultant has arranged for a series of buyer visits at regular intervals of time, so that they can suggest improvisations as per market demand and the advance money will give confidence to the artisans in their craft. It would be very important to make sure that the artisans who have received the training must take on the role of teachers and should train others. The training-of-trainers approach would generate a multiplier effect; and those who have been trained would assume leading roles in the process of product development, mentoring other artisans to upgrade their skills. More updates to come soon………………..