CRAFTERS’ SUPPORT-Promoting sustainable use of resources through COVID times

Crafter showing off her products

It is well-known that the tourism sector is one of the biggest contributors to employment in Namibia - That was at least until the first quarter of 2020 when tourist arrivals came to halt due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions and bans as a measure to contain the virus. Recent reports have indicated of the reported 14 500 job loses between March to September 2020 the majority were in the accommodation, travel, tourism and hospitality industries.  

As tourist numbers dwindled in early 2020, a number of communal conservancies as institutions and their related business enterprises began to struggle financially. Households were not spared. With immediate interventions to assist the established institutions a vulnerable group of locals who relied on craft sales most of them women risked being left out. Whilst most formalized establishments have some form of capacity in the form of reserves to rely in the short to medium term, the situation differs for community members, more so those that typically go day-by-day on a subsistence basis and are reliant on the “sale of the day”.

In response to this specific need, CCFN in collaboration with the Conservation Relief, Recovery and Resilience Facility (CRRRF) stakeholders allocated funding to support artisans and crafters in communal conservancies to subsidise lost sales income. In addition to the beautiful pieces they produce from the sustainable use of mother nature’s provisions, this group plays a further role in preserving the culture and heritage of communities and communicating in their unique ways the value and beauty of our wildlife and landscapes through art.

This initiative was rolled out in December 2020 and approximately N$ 800 000 has been distributed in exchange for artwork to crafters in conservancies through Mashi Crafts in Mayuni Conservancy and Omba Arts Trust in Windhoek. To date, a total of 358 crafters have received an income directly from this initiative, 94% being women.     

The two Craft centres market crafts and other natural resource products made and supplied by local community members from the controlled and sustainable harvesting and use of their natural resources.  The enterprises provide important revenue and employment to community members, opportunities that entrench the value of the natural resources and provides an alternative to illegal hunting, poaching and other land use opportunity costs. In addition, Mashi Crafts Centre has a formal joint venture agreement with the conservancy and pays an addition monthly rental fee to the Conservancy that filters through the community’s annual costs and benefits. The outlet serves tourists and visitors to the area, and exports products out of the Zambezi region other parts of the country. The enterprise also supports crafters from the neighboring countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe.  

Omba Arts Trust on the other hand supports approximately 400 rural artisans in 9 regions of the country, particularly San living on resettlements farms. Socio-economic empowerment and greater gender equality are two important results of community conservation as most of the crafters are women headed householders who sorely rely on producing crafts and selling to the center to support their families in paying of school fees, supporting orphans, clothing, food and clinic fees. Craft making can be fitted into women’s daily routines without taking them away from the homestead. As self-employed entrepreneurs they feed into larger craft projects, and other community-based enterprises, while lodges are also important sales outlets. Unsurprisingly having been raised on schooled on income from the female led household coming from such crafts this is at the heart of the CCFN CEO and many others like him.

“With the income received, the crafters were able to support themselves during the pandemic. They are still working and will continue with the supply of their products the center. “Their wish is for the grant to be extended to continue supporting them to sustain themselves until the craft centers start to receive some visitors and business goes back to normal.” Janet Matota (IRDNC-Zambezi region) on behalf of the crafters. While no promises have been made, at the time of writing CBNRM stakeholders were pursuing ways to extend the initiative and hopeful in these sustained tough times continue to provide a little festive cheer in the coming months through the initiative. 

Victoria Amon