A Brief Introduction
Bongo Trade Center is a CBO; an income generating project initiated by the Bongo District Assembly as part of its district poverty reduction programme. The aim of the initiative was for the Center to assist the local handcraft weavers with production and marketing. Production entails training in product development on various designs to meet customer specifications and demands, whereas marketing involves sourcing for national and international markets for members’ products. This includes exhibitions and sales at trade fairs. The major products are hand woven baskets and hats, some of which are displayed in the pdf file below.
The other purpose was to create an enabling environment for the local women basket and hat weavers for their craft activities for income generation. The District Assembly put up a building comprising of office, store, showroom and weaving hall. The weavers were previously weaving under trees. From the showroom, some of the products are displayed and sold whereas the weavers can come and weave their products as and when they able to from the weaving hall.
Activities and Achievements
The Center now operates as a co-operative, the purpose being to mobilize savings from members from which they can borrow to assist them with their income generating activities. Funds are a problem during the lean non-farming seasons when cash flow is limited and the members do not have adequate working capital. The members can then borrow from their savings in such times to be able to carry out their income generating activities. Other petty traders in Bongo District expressed desire to be included in the co-operative, so the Trade Center now operates as a multi-purpose co-operative society.
The other purpose for the co-operative is for sustainability. The Assembly initiated the project so that through its income generation activities it can become self-sustaining. The co-operative is deemed necessary to fulfill this vision, where it will use its own savings and income and not always depend on donor funding.
Some of the Center’s groups, mainly women, have undergone adult literacy classes through non-formal education in 2004-2005. This activity stopped for a while but is soon starting again in 2008, to be conducted by the District’s non-formal education department. Interested members are taught in the local language such subjects as basic numeracy, reading and writing.
From September 2003 the Center has been managed by VSO volunteers. The skilled volunteers are supposed to build the capacity of local counterparts to be able to take over its management for sustainability. This has been an ongoing process.
Members of the community are continuously undergoing co-operative education about co-operative principles and practices.
About 200 members have joined the co-operative as at December 2007 from inception in June 2006, paying membership fees, buying shares and saving from their incomes. From December 2006 to December 2007 membership fees has increased by 40% whereas savings have gone up by 33%. This is extremely amazing if you consider the cry from the members from the launch of the co-operative that they are too poor to save. Increased market access and production has enabled them have the ability to save from their profits.
Product development workshop in progess Continuous product development in baskets weaving has been done since 2003 to capacitate the weavers with knowledge of new designs and different customer specifications. This is a continuous exercise as and when funds are available. The workshops are also meant to improve on quality of products.
Some buyers come and train the members themselves for their specific required designs and then contract the weavers to weave for a specific order. The workshops are normally held at the Center for 25 to 30 participants per time, who are registered members, representing various communities in the district. They are expected to go back and train the other members of their communities. This has born some good fruit as other members of the community have learned from the trainees and have come and joined the co-operative.
The Center has collaborated with FRALIDEP (Frafra Literacy Development Project) for credit. In 2005, loans were granted to 10 groups district wide amounting to 10m cedes (Gh¢ 1,000). NBSSI (National Board for Small Scale Industries), has also advanced the Center two loans totaling GH¢ 920 to buy materials for production for two orders received.
The external loans are to bridge the gap in the Center’s cash flow as members continue to save from their incomes. It is with this financial constraint in mind that it has been deemed necessary to start the co-operative, being operated as a business enterprise for sustainability. As the co-operative grows, it is anticipated that the interest/profit from loans and income from sales will be able finance operational costs.
Sales and Marketing
Some inquiries have been made via the internet from international buyers, in particular with fair trade organizations. Some positive responses have been received with orders being placed.
The products are displayed in the attached pdf file below.
From product development workshops the co-operative has been able to source good market and in one year (2007-2008), the sales have improved by 500%, bringing improved income to the weavers. Some sales are also made from the co-operative’s showroom.
Through one middleman, our weavers have received 1 training from Export Promotion Council and 2 sponsored by a fair trade importer/buyer for a specific design.
Unfortunately, The Center has been able to attend only two sales trade fairs since 2003, one in Bolgatanga and one in Accra. This is mainly due to lack of the required funds to finance the logistics.
The Trade Center received some funding from BUSAC fund on behalf of the co-operative for a nine months advocacy. The advocacy is to campaign against bush fires that destroy the straw used in weaving. This means that the straw has to be imported from outside the region at a higher cost. Apart from the straw there are other adverse effects caused by bush fires in the communities. For example grass used in roof thatching, soil infertility, other beneficial vegetation, and environmental degradation to mention a few.
Production and Seasonality
Most of the buyers are middlemen who give the weavers very low prices for their products. The low prices are a disincentive resulting in low productivity. Direct markets, e.g. with international fair trade organizations often fetch the producers fairer prices.
Savings and Mobilization
Co-operatives depend on members’ savings and interest on loans for their operations. The challenge is that due to the high level of poverty, the savings is limited and it takes time to accumulate substantial amounts for loaning to members and for operational costs. The co-operative is still in its infant stages, mobilizing and educating the community traders for membership recruitment. The results are encouraging; about 200 members have been registered from June 2006 to December 2007. With the education the communities are beginning to comprehend the benefits of co-operatives and ownership concept.
Bongo town is not located on any major highway so is not frequented by outsiders or tourists like its neighbouring town Bolgatanga. For this reason, the showroom is not patronized by buyers except for infrequent visitors. The crafters also opt to take their products to Bolgatanga, which is a bigger market, adding transport to their costs. Thus, the need to source for alternative national and international markets, and in addition promote eco/ethnic tourism which will bring tourists and visitors to the District.
The Center does not have the necessary resources for its operations:
- Lack of transport for community outreach for implementation and monitoring. The main focus of community outreach is to sensitize, mobilize and educate the communities for co-operative recruitment. In addition, the Center has to monitor production when it receives orders on behalf of the members.
- Lack of adequate office furniture and the necessary office equipments such as computer, printer, photocopier.
Plans and Visions
The Center will continue with the following activities:
- Co-operative sensitization, mobilization, recruitment and members’ registration;
- Carry out Co-operative education to registered potential members; • conduct workshops for training on product development on baskets weaving;
- Source for viable markets;
- Participate in regional and national trade fairs; and
- Collaborate with other stake holders where necessary and as the need arises for any service deliveries to members.