The importance of handcraft in Tanzania is readily evident in the very large numbers of women and men engaged in handcraft production, and in the wide range of crafts available, including woodcarving, basketry, textiles, beadwork and leatherwork. The handcraft sector is comprised of artisans, women’s groups, small enterprises and organizations, and also includes a diversity of public and private service providers for the development and support of craft production, marketing and trade.
A research project was undertaken in 2005 with the purpose to assist in the process of increasing opportunity for artisans to enter and succeed in new markets, including the export market. The research examined the situation of craft producers in Tanzania and also the kinds of interventions and supportive organizations that assist craft producers to develop and market their products and create small enterprises.
The research was carried out in cooperation with the Trade Facilitation Office Canada (TFOC) a Canadian non-profit NGO that provides export training and marketing assistance for developing countries. TFOC is involved in PACT, a joint programme with the International Trade Centre in Geneva. PACT – Programme for building African Capacity for Trade – aims to assist the African private sector to do business internationally and to promote their exports. As part of PACT, TFOC initiated a project in partnership with the Tanzanian Bureau of External Trade (BET) to increase capacity and opportunity for exporting Tanzanian handcraft.
The research report – Tanzanian Handcraft Study – provides short profiles of agencies, organizations and enterprises. These include a synopsis of challenges confronted by small-scale local businesses and export- oriented companies, the assistance currently available, and what is needed to further develop the handcraft sector. The report also provides an overview of issues and recommendations. This article draws from the Tanzanian Handcraft Study and outlines key findings.
Synopsis of Issues
In Tanzania, craft production is primarily viewed in economic terms as a means of survival, poverty alleviation and income generation. Craft activity is sometimes associated with women’s empowerment and/or sustaining cultural identity. It is increasingly seen as a means to create viable small and medium enterprises, create employment, generate trade and contribute to the national economy. However, there needs to be a change of attitude about craft and craft production: it is inappropriate to view craft simply as a means of labour at poverty wages. Instead, craft activity can be recognized for the skills and aesthetic sensibilities involved and also as a potential for producers to become entrepreneurs, international traders and significant contributors to Tanzanian cultural industries.
Craftspeople tend to be among the marginalized, poor and predominantly rural members of Tanzanian society. Often there are problems associated with bad working conditions – such as inadequate lighting or ventilation, long hours of work for very low pay, health and safety risks. It is important that any efforts to develop Tanzanian handcraft production and marketing do not inadvertently perpetuate bad working conditions and wages and inadequate social protection. It makes no sense to promote greater craft production under conditions of exploitation, cheap and/or hazardous labour. A related issue is protection and conservation of natural resources and the environment.
In order to develop and sustain a viable craft sector, a broad range of education is needed, including basic technical skills, product design, entrepreneurship, business management and market research. While greater access to training is needed throughout the country, a number of training approaches and service providers already exist. For example, Small Industries Development Organization (SIDO) – an agency of the Tanzanian Ministry of Industry and Trade – offers business skills development services and marketing information to assist small and medium enterprises. A second example is the Artisan Development Agency of Tanzania (ADAT) a non-governmental membership organization that offers training in textile production and entrepreneurship development to assist the empowerment of Tanzanian women.
A lack of working capital limits the productivity and innovation of craft producers and therefore constrains the development and sustainability of their businesses and organizations. Limited by lack of workspace, sufficient good equipment and quality raw materials, and waiting for sales or orders from buyers, craft producers often cannot continue to work or develop new product and design ideas. Craftspeople often need short-term loans or small grants for equipment, tools, materials and rent. Both SIDO and ADAT offer financial services to members and ADAT has a materials bank, set up by means of bulk purchasing of materials, which are made available to members at reasonable cost.
A gender mainstreaming policy has begun to direct attention to the situation and concerns of women in Tanzania. Within the context of women’s organizations that help women earn a livelihood assmall-scale producers and as businesswomen, handcraft and textile production are seen as important arenas of women’s work and economic empowerment. For example, the Women’s Economic Group Coordinating Council (WEGCC) works in four northern districts of Tanzania to promote socio-economic empowerment and gender equity. WEGCC focuses on handcraft in one rural livelihood project, initially helping to improve the quality and design of baskets that women make. A great need remains for more broadly accessible technical, financial and business support services for women.
Product design and development is currently very limited in Tanzania. Several organizations have contributed product development consultation and training, including AMKA, which originated from an export development programme of Traidcraft Exchange (UK) and also Aid To Artisans (USA) that worked in Tanzania between 1999 and 2005 to provide product development, training and market links. Product designers from CBI (Netherlands) and Ten Thousand Villages (USA) have also assisted in product development. However, there is not enough response to the need, especially in the ongoing way required to sustain the craft sector. The major challenge of product development is to increase the significance, value and marketability of handmade products. A specific concern is to address the lack of product designers in Tanzania and the high cost of bringing in foreign product design consultants.
The challenges of marketing handmade crafts are pervasive, no matter whether the target is the local, tourist or export market. Artisans need buyers in order to continue to produce and earn a livelihood. Local markets are filled with craft products of mixed quality and competition is high. However, there are some organized marketing opportunities for craft producers. Providing market assistance is a priority of SIDO. As well as sponsoring local fairs, which coincide with their training workshops, SIDO has set up a zonal marketing system, an annual fair in each of Tanzania’s seven zones, linking producers and consumers and highlighting the unique products that are made in different regions of the country. In addition, the Tanzanian Cultural Trust Fund, a joint initiative of the governments of Tanzania and Sweden holds an annual craft exhibition. Tanz Hands, another annual exhibition, is an initiative from the Canadian High Commission that promotes high quality craftwork.
To succeed in export marketing, producers must meet demanding standards and requirements and be able to achieve a high level of production capacity and quality. Ideas for improving Tanzanian handcraft marketing include: establishment of marketing centers, in districts and nationally, that are accessible, well managed and promoted; increase export capacity by providing more craft focused export marketing training and by enabling market research, exposure and trade links through international trade missions and events. Although constrained by lack of resources, the Tanzanian Bureau of External Trade (BET) coordinates a cross-sectoral training programme in business export readiness and export marketing, and promotes the craft sector to external markets by organizing craft exporters for participation in international trade fairs. BET has found that craft organizations and enterprises account for a very high proportion of participants in international trade fairs. Among these, many are women entrepreneurs.
There are some projects and programmes in some districts of Tanzania that address common needs for training, technical support, financial services, marketing information and access. However, the craft sector as a whole is not organized and its potential is unrealized. An inclusive and coordinated approach would spread benefits broadly to women and men in all the districts. The creation of a national craft organization could coordinate the efforts of district level membership associations to serve craft producers and enterprises, especially to facilitate marketing in all districts and at all levels, including export marketing. One of BET’s goals is to assist in the creation of a national craft association that can oversee the development of the craft sector and represent its members.
The potential for economic empowerment and the importance of sustaining Tanzanian culture make handcraft a priority area for development and promotion. However, to create and sustain a vibrant handcraft sector throughout Tanzania a wide-reaching and long-term perspective is needed. This also means responding to the particular requirements of craft training, production, product design, market research and access. Organizations that already provide much needed services can do more to assist craft producers and thereby increase the value of their economic and cultural contribution.
This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada
This article was published in 2006 in Crafts News, Volume 16, Issue 65, a publication of CHF International