The Bolga Basket Weaver 

In north-east of Ghana, near to the border to Burkina Faso, Bolgatanga is situated, where the Frafra are the original settlers. (Scientifically spoken the Frafra are a larger ethical group, and the weavers belong to the smaller tribe of the Gurunsi. In Ghana however the weavers call themselves Frafras.) In this area about 120.000 people are living and not in every house or compound families or villages weaving is a predominant vocation.

Whilst agriculture - despite the poor soils of the Sahel zone - is the major occupation (millet, guinea corn, maize, groundnuts, beans, cattle and animal rearing) about 4000 people do weaving as a part time or even full-time occupation.
Most of them however see weaving as a side or additional occupation, as agriculture for self-sufficiency is their major profession. During the main farming season, weaving is neglected a little to give enough time for the harvest.

Out of the 4000 weaver we from Fairtrade Producer Society (FPS) co-operate and work together with 980 (survey and group registration 2002). They are from three villages: Gambigo, Nyarga and Sumbrungu.

In the individual compounds the weaver groups are organised like a family is together. To the outside, meaning towards the market and also our man Abu Sadik or Accraboy they are represented by their leaders. The Leaders - different for men and women - are the link to the market and are selected from the groups (families, between 5 and 30 people) themselves. Theirs is a service function: negotiate price, collect straw, collect money, transport baskets and straw, serve as communication link, such as orders, quantities, colours, style.  In case of discrepancies the leader is sacked.

Accraboy is co-ordinating the orders of Getrade-FPS, and is sending the ready baskets to Accra. His duty - apart from co-ordination, colour selection, weaver’s selection and their quantity of orders, and the first quality control - is definitely payment of weavers and the organisation of basket transport from the villages. Also he has the storage in his house, as well as the straw storage and also the leather makers and their leather. The leather is made as per piece in his house. Also he sells the rejected baskets at the Arts Centre in Accra, where he still has a store, like he opened it in 1986.

Prices however are fixed with the weavers by Getrade-FPS through discussions in the meetings with the weavers two times a year.
Payments to Bolga and also to the weavers are strictly before at collection, with a prepayment (and a straw distribution in the lean season) for straw and dye.

Since its inauguration in 1999 FPS as a Producer Society with the objective of  a fund of 3 % of Turnover and a distribution of trading surplus to producers is organising the weavers as follows:
We can not register all 980 weavers individually (also they change with life changes, such as marriage, sickness and migration). So they get their Annual share of profit distribution in form of a straw donation:
For 1999 (paid in the year 2000) they received a Bonus of straw worth 3,000,000 Cedis (about 500 US $) and a straw depot worth 10 Mio. Cedis (2 rooms full in a house). As this was the first time ever such a project was started, there has been no bad report back on Logistics, equal distribution and storage problems. In 2001 and 2002 we donated 4 Mio straw and got a depot worth 20 Mio Cedis.
In 2003 we only put a depot, in 2004 we omitted the straw programme. This was due to poor economic performance.
More weavers are integrated in Accra, where Getrade-FPS is directly ordering, prepaying, receiving and paying the baskets. There has not been any organised group structure in Accra, as they are all individual migrants from Bolgatanga.
We have however put up 15 groups, with their leaders and a strength of between 5 and 22 people (as at 2001). These groups receive the orders and a prepayment and deliver individual.

Since the 50th the TEA (spoken Te - A ) the basket with a handle is produced in Bolgatanga.
Bolgatanga is the capital of the Upper- East Region of Ghana. Here is the Sahel Zone the predominant agricultural grounds, with its dry season and heat for over 6 month a year. Between May and September there are and millet, maize, and groundnuts are planted and harvested.
During this time weaving is only done in the night, most time is spent on the farms. In the dry season of the year however a lot of baskets are woven.

An average of four baskets a week can be done by a woman, who has her housework, firewood collection, water bringing, washing and children care during the whole day. So she can achieve an additional income of Cedis 16000, which is equivalent to 4 kg of millet, which is the basic stable food in the region. (Figures 9/99).
And by selling 2 baskets to Getrade-FPS, the school fee for the local primary school can be paid for one Term(figures Gambigo 9/99).

This is the reason, why especially mothers are weaving a lot, as they are often bound to feed the family. Whilst men are weaving more beautiful and more artistic designs and also more baskets (they do not have any daily duty, but renew „only“ houses, organise farm tools and meet with other men at the Pito sites, or save for a bicycle). It is women who weave for the welfare of the family.

Every man/woman is working on her/his own basket. They buy their own straw, and mostly dye it alone, twist it themselves and weave each a basket. For weaving they sit in their house or compound on the floor or under the tree. Mostly weavers work alone, or in small company, hardly in huge groups.

With the high volumes of production, one can see the area of Bolgatanga, where the Frafra weavers are farming and have Basket weaving for income generation, is developing and changing gradually:
Whilst the state rehabilitated the road to Bolga and the District Assembly put up a new Market area, private investment has also followed into the Region, such as FM Radio, transport enterprises and service workshops. Within the last ten years Basket weaving has attributed to the upgrading of Bolgatanga and the Region.
Despite the fact, that Basket weaving is mainly a part-time occupation the permanent market for Baskets  made  it possible for weavers to improve their livelihood in their villages and compounds: more permanent structures are put up (cement and roofing sheets), household utilities are bought (LPG Gas cookers, Radios) and bicycles and even motorbikes are in many compounds.
All with a supplementary income of about 5-7 US $ a week and weaver.

We however still feel the workmanship for a basket is underpaid ( 2.50 US $) and would like to change that, but the common Market does not allow for higher prices.

Women and men are working separately in the Basket weaving. They organise themselves, around their compounds into groups, who have a group leader. The leaders are responsible for contracts and Sales; however prices and incomes are discussed and shared within the group.
There is also no significance that women are the major weavers, in fact their output is less in quantities and their designs are fewer. Due to the fact that women are charged with the lot of housework their time is more limited for weaving. Still it is the duty of women to care for the children, so they work with the children and also use - if possible - the income to pay school fees.

With the income of just one week’s production local school fees are paid, but only few send their children to school. FPS is since 2003 having a  programme, the BOLGA SCHOOLFUND to enrol the weaver’s children to school and give them school fees, uniform and books

Our next aim in the Basket industry is to reorganise the professionalism in weaving. The groups work with “leaders”, who not necessarily are weavers or specialists. This change we will do in a one week workshop in December 2006, to meet the challenges that face the Basket industry.