ZIMBABWE has the potential to grow exports from the arts and crafts sector and tap into the growing global market for basketware currently standing at around US$2,1 billion, Lupane Women’s Centre director Hildegard Mufukare has said.
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
“Basketry can even give you one billion dollars,” Mufukare said during a recent visit by ZimTrade, the country’s export promotion body.
Although the figure might seem far stretched considering the country’s exports, Mufukare remains confident the country could harness the potential within rural communities to grow exports.
The centre boasts of a membership of more than 4 500 people, the largest number of organised weavers in the country.
Of the total membership, more than 420 are successful weavers, who supply both domestic and international markets.
According to Trade Map, the global import bill of manufactures of straw, of esparto or of other plaiting materials, basketware and wickerwork grew from US$1.81 billion in 2016 to US$2.1 billion in 2019.
To tap into that market, Mufukare noted the need for closer linkages between the Zimbabwean diaspora and rural business, which will ride on the former supporting initiatives within communities they grew up in.
“Communities look forward to support from people, who were raised within those communities, especially those that have left the country,” she is quoted as saying in the latest ZimTrade report.
“So, we need to establish mechanisms and processes through which people who have left our communities can give back by promoting local products abroad,” she said.
Such an arrangement, she said, would create stronger social structures that will see women being supported by a sustainable system of survival and in turn do away with handouts that are currently affecting their production capacities.
The organisation is a training, information and marketing place for women who are involved in various weaving and related projects.
Mufukare, however, noted that the centre had potential to contribute meaningfully to national exports if current challenges affecting production and exports were addressed.
She noted that there were price distortions because of increased activities by middlemen, which have affected earnings for rural women.
“Because of the current economic challenges and difficulties in accessing some international markets, some middlemen are taking advantage of that and negotiating a price that is not sustainable,” she said.
The result is that women are forced to sell their commodities at very cheap prices and this has a ripple effect on production and the nation’s earnings.
The logistics and freight support is another challenge that is affecting distribution of pieces from Lupane to all parts of the world.
The current fees are making, for example, baskets weaved in Lupane uncompetitive, leaving room for products from countries such as Zambia and South Africa to seize markets.
To address these challenges, ZimTrade is identifying international buyers that have the potential to import directly from Lupane, thereby cutting out the middlemen who are usually resident in Harare and Bulawayo.
Development of a mobile application, which will create a direct connection between international buyers and weavers in Lupane, is also at an advanced stage.
Once operational, the organisation should be able to advertise their products on the platform, engage in business-to-business meetings with buyers and conclude business deals.
With regard to freight challenges, ZimTrade is engaging service providers to offer favourable terms to women in Lupane so that they export at uncomplicated and less costly terms.