Located in the Upper East Region of Ghana, West Africa, the town of Bolgatanga—the regional capital of the Upper East Region—is plagued with two extreme and harsh seasons: exceedingly hot and dry or rainy. The majority of the population lives in rural areas where survival depends on subsistence farming. All farming activities occur during the five-month rainy season from May to September. In spite of the challenges in cultivating crops, there is another occupation for the people of Bolgatanga: basket weaving.
According to Dominic Abakuri, Director of Rural Africa Crafts Limited (RAC), “Basket weaving is the hope for the rural population. The Bolga basket is a traditional handicraft product exclusively woven by the indigenous people of Bolgatanga in Northern Ghana, Africa. The majority of the weavers, who are women, depend on the sale of their baskets as a major source of income to feed themselves and their children.”
The traditional bolga basket is a functional basket which is used as a sieve to filter millet malt into making a local alcoholic drink known as pito. It is woven without a handle with the ends of the straw untrimmed.
The baskets are mostly woven in-doors in the respective houses of the artisans. They come in a multitude of colorful patterns, designs, and shapes ranging from the traditional round market basket to baby baskets, U and oval-shoppers. In total, there at least 20 different shapes of the bolga basket.
For Dominic Abakuri, Rural Africa Crafts Limited is not just another business to maximize profit. “We are on a mission with a vision to create economic opportunities for socially and economically marginalized craft producers of Northern Ghana in Africa. The goal is to alleviate rural poverty for the most vulnerable producers in rural communities who are endowed with amazing traditional craft skills, paying attention to equitable, sustainable and environmentally safe practices.”
The organization has established a collaborative partnership relationship with producers rather than a factory-worker type relationship, and with the vision is to build the capacity of the producers to a level of independence rather than dependence. Currently, the company works with 615 women from nine groups from various local communities.
“To achieve this, we value and appreciate the purchasing power of those who buy our products. We place a premium value on every single purchase and are most grateful. We believe that the buyer does not only deserve the best quality product and service but should also be empowered with knowledge about the weavers, their culture and social values as well as the socio-economic conditions under which the products are made.”
From January 31st until February 3rd, 2016, Rural Africa Crafts will be exhibiting their new collections of baskets at NY NOW’s Artisan Resource at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan with the goal to meet potential buyers and keep Northern Ghana’s basket weavers working and earning a sustainable income.