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25 June 2016

ALBERT SORE’S MEMOIR: A Touch Of Straw – UE straw baskets making impact internationally

straw basketsIt comes in beautiful colors and in various designs for different purposes. Though it was only used traditionally for storing household items and shopping in the market, the straw basket from the Upper East Region has evolved into an international commodity capable of significantly boosting Ghana’s foreign exchange.

The Sirigu Women’s Organization for Pottery and Art (SWOPA) located in the Kasena-Nankana West District of the Upper East Region is one of many places known for the manufacturing of these straw baskets, frequently sought after by tourists who visit the region.

Each day, a number of spectacularly-designed straw baskets are produced at this art center.

Straw baskets

Weaving of straw baskets is done manually without the aid of any machines.

Faustina Atiah, a trainer in the making of straw baskets at SWOPA describes the weaving process as “stressful”.

While these baskets are produced in the Upper East Region, the women order for the straw from the south of the country.

Faustina says straw can be found in the Upper East Region too “but it is not strong”.

Straw baskets

To come up with these beautifully-chequered baskets, the straws are split horizontally, then rubbed vigorously with the palm against rubber sandals commonly called slippers. This produces rope-like straws which are then woven together, starting from the base of the basket to the handles at the top.

To get the beautiful colors that decorate the baskets, the straws are immersed in dyes according to the desired colors before they are used to weave.

Straw baskets come in various shapes and sizes. But this is not just for decorative purposes. Each basket has a different purpose, depending on the shape.

Straw baskets

Oval baskets with handles are mainly for shopping in the market, round baskets with leather straps can be used as hand bags for women and thickly-woven rectangular baskets are strapped in front of bicycles.

Straw baskets have been in existence for over a century and have been part of the tradition of the people of the Upper East Region.

In Sirigu, the women who weave these baskets often sell them cheaply on the local market.

Straw baskets

Meanwhile, straw baskets are in high demand on the international market with the UK and the Netherlands being the well-known destinations for these baskets.

Acting Manager of the Bolgatanga Basket Weavers Cooperative Club, Charles Asabilla says in his 20 years of experience in the straw basket business, the demand keeps changing.

Straw baskets

He says in the Netherlands for example where bicycles are a common means of transport, the thick rectangular straw baskets are in high demand. “We receive emails from Europe all the time, asking us to make one model or other and supply to them”, he says.

The demand for straw baskets on the international market has also created the need for newer models of the baskets.

For this reason, the Women Leadership for Economic Empowerment and Food Security through the Empower Project has been training the women of Sirigu to make new models of straw baskets.

Straw baskets

Programs Manager for Women Economic Empowerment Program, Elham Mumuni says after all the hard work the women put into producing the baskets, they often sold them at giveaway prices on the local market.

The Empower Project therefore seeks to give these women, greater marketing potentials and expose them to the new models of straw baskets that trend on the international market.

In addition to that, the baskets the women produce during the training and thereafter are purchased as international partners make orders from the group.

Straw baskets

Atampugre Agombire, a straw baskets weaver who benefitted from a similar training last year says the skills she acquired from the training has improved her work and she now sells more baskets than she used to.

“That’s how I feed my children and pay their fees. I am also able to buy more food to feed the entire family. Life is easier now for us”, she says.

Straw baskets

Straw baskets have become an important tourist attraction and a commodity that has the potential to significantly boost Ghana’s foreign exchange  but that will only happen when the right feasibility studies are done and government invests the needed resources into the manufacturing of these baskets.

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