Artisanal production of bamboo baskets – A pilot to explore a forest based, livelihood opportunity in St Vincent
Georgetown is a small city on the Northeast coast of the Caribbean island St. Vincent. Following the closure of the local sugar factory and the decline of the banana production, due to the WTO ruling to cut the preferential market access for banana export to Europe, the region has lost its traditional sources of income. As a result a growing number of male youth are "taking"to the hills to cultivate marihuana, a lucrative, yet dangerous and illegal activity.
Approximately 30 % of St Vincent is covered with forest. Unfortunately, due to the rugged terrain, conventional forestry is difficult to practice. However, the forest offers many non-timber forest products, including bamboo, which could provide the base for alternative livelihood opportunities
Decades ago the people of Georgetown were well known for their skills in using bamboo to build baskets and other household items. With the increased use of plastic, the tradition of bamboo weaving was almost lost.
The Georgetown Craft Makers Association is a local community development organization that had the idea to revive the traditional bamboo craft to generate income opportunities for local youth. With the assistance of FAO, the community group formalized its status as a registered non-profit organization. The group presented a proposal to train interested youth in the art of bamboo weaving. With funding from FAO, two local trainers were hired through a letter of agreement with the Georgetown Craft Makers Association. One was over 80 years old and known to be one of the last and best artisans in bamboo weaving. In addition to the trainers, the association contracted a facilitator to organize the selection of the trainees and the organization of the training. The venue for the training was the community center which was provided basically free of charge by a local church. The staff of the forestry department assisted in allocating the bamboo resources and supported the transport of the cut bamboo. 15 persons, mainly young women were trained in harvesting and processing bamboo and weaving of different types of bamboo baskets and items. Over a period of 15 weeks, 44 training days were offered. Trainees received a small stipend, slightly less than the daily pay for agricultural labor. Although the payment was rather small, all trainees completed the course.
The Facilitator not only organized the training, she also prepared a small practical study on the production of the prepared items. She analyzed time and production costs for specific items and estimated an economically justified selling price. A sturdy, medium size, market basket could be produced for a sale price of approximately $20 US dollars.
At the end of the training, 15 community members learned how to make baskets and other handicraft items out of bamboo. A simple economic analysis showed that bamboo weaving is a viable economic activity that can contribute significantly to the family income. The trainees not only acquired bamboo working skills, they also received training in marketing their products.
As the foundation for the production process is established, the next step is to improve the products and secure the market. In addition to the local demand for bamboo products, there are approximately 750000 tourists visiting St Vincent and the Grenadines every year. The task at hand is to develop small, attractive bamboo products as souvenirs for overseas tourists
The training program ended with a formal closing ceremony and the opening of an exhibition of bamboo craft. The trainees proudly presented their products. The trainers, the Georgetown Craft Makers Association, the local church, and the Forestry Department expressed their satisfaction with the training program. All stakeholders felt that they had contributed to and are part of the success.
The development of community based livelihood opportunities is a complex undertaking and can only be achieved in close cooperation with a locally rooted community organization.
The facilitator is an additional factor to the success. Most community groups have shown a serious commitment to the project; however, many don't have the skills to coordinate the project, organize instructors, and obtain a venue, tools, and raw materials, as well as money to pay for food. Therefore, hiring a qualified facilitator is an important component of the LoA. Similarly, mentoring was provided through external project funding. Ideally, the national forest administration should provide this support; however, very few state administrations currently have the capacity to provide this service.
An additional value to the project is that it brings a wide range of stakeholders together, first to communicate and interact and then to collaborate to achieve the set goal. It facilitates a culture of partnership between government agencies and civil society organizations as well as interaction among different civil society groups. It nurtures dialog and collaboration among different players. This culture of trust and dialog is the foundation on which any successful national forest program or forest policy is built. The above mentioned LOA was an investment of $18,000 US dollars toward this goal and it may be a possible model for the newly established Forest Farm Facility.
Regional Forestry Officer for the Caribbean