Fortunes of wood carvers dwindle

Business News of Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Source: Graphic Online

Aburi Curving

The wood carving business at Aburi in the Eastern Region, which used to provide jobs for more than 2,000 youth in the early 1990s, is fast losing its lustre due to a combination of factors.

These include poor patronage of the artefacts by local people and the dwindling export fortunes. Consequently, majority of the youth who learnt the job have diverted into other trades and working as construction labourers, drivers’ mates, head porters among others in Accra.

However, in identifying the reasons for the challenges faced by the artisans, the Head of Handicraft at the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA), Mrs Theodora Froko, stressed the need for the crafters to be innovative to make their products appealing to the people.

For instance she noted that there was the need for them to come out with new designs and also ensure that they improved on their finishing. Consequently, she said that the authority would support the industry to acquire more knowledge in the export business while exposing them to new ways of competing in the world market.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry through its agency, the Export Trade Agriculture and Industrial Development Fund (EDAIF), supported the artisans by establishing a modern Craft Village which has about 116 shops at the cost of GH¢850,000.

The artefacts are basically used for decoration, but some designs originate from deep-rooted cultural practices and are identifiable to a particular region or country. Like other antiques, artefacts are cherished by their owners, and there are many others handed down from generations.

However, the shine that used to greet the Aburi Craft Village is not that glamorous today, as patronage has slumped significantly, affecting export volumes and values in the process.

“I can state emphatically that when things were good for this industry, I normally exported about 16 pieces of the 40-footer containers of carved woods annually,” Nana Krobea Asante, the Vice Chairman of the Aburi Industrial Centre (AIC), said.

“However, things have drastically changed to the extent that I cannot even sell half a container in a whole year; our enviable business has become a hand-to-mouth business,” he stressed.

Nana Asante, an exporter with over 20 years experience, believes the illegal duties paid at the borders between Ghana and the rest of the sub-region to export the products has not promoted intra-Africa.

He was also of the view that challenges of the artisans had been compounded because the government neither supported craftsmen to participate in trade fairs outside the country nor assist them to export.

He said until 2002, GEPA helped the industry to export its artefacts and noted that since then things had not been the same. The diversification of the country’s economy in the early 1990s saw an improvement in the generation of foreign exchange from non-traditional sources, including the handicraft sector.

This sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP cannot be underestimated, with creation of jobs high among the list of benefits derived from the sector. However, the last two decades has seen a dwindling of foreign exchange from the handicraft sector from US$15 million in 2001 to US$2.4 million as of 2013, a shortfall of US$12.6 million.

The decline, according to the GEPA, was as a result of lack of investment in product and design development by handicraft producers. The industry grew considerably overtime and reached its peak in 2001 with an approximate 15 million export earnings.

Mrs Froko explained that the authority had embarked on a number of activities such as facilitating the establishment of the Craft Village at Aburi in order to remedy the situation.

According to her, the authority had recognised the need to improve the designs of Ghanaian handicrafts and to help the industry acquire knowledge in the export business so that Ghanaian products could compete on the world market.

As part of efforts to revamp the sector, the authority has attached 20 service personnel from the College of Arts at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to craft companies and exporters nationwide to assist them with innovative and new ideas.

“The authority has employed an international designer who will from this year start teaching the local wood carvers modern designs; this is to help the producers and exporters boost their knowledge on current trends,” she added.

Mrs Froko explained that until the industry understood the importance of product design and development, GEPA as a market facilitator could only do little to help.

According to the government, the Craft Village was supposed to house the number of craft shops scattered all over and further provide jobs for the youth, but unfortunately that aim might not be achieved since the number of traders occupying the shops at the Craft Village is decreasing by the day.

In less than a year since the government handed over the Centre to local authorities, it has not been able to operate at night.

One of the Directors of the Craft Village, Nii Amartey Laryea, who is also a member of the past governing board, explained that the occupants in the shops owed more than GH¢1,100 in electricity bills. This has led to the disconnection of power to the centre.