June 19, 2018

Unavailable market compels Ofoase Craftsmen to abandon age-old trade

Craftsmen in Ofoase in the Atwima-Kwahoma district of the Ashanti region have abandoned age-old trade for what they believe are better jobs.

The community was one of the main artisanal hubs of woodcraft in the country. The once vibrant economic area created jobs for hundreds of people in and surrounding communities.

Many challenges including advancement in technology and unavailable market are the major challenges. The Ofoase community used to be a hub of woodcraft in the country. It held big exhibitions and attracted many tourists to the community due to its unique craftwork. Eight years ago, the area was occupied by many young men carving one piece of work to the other.

But now, the narrative has changed.

Akwasi Ansah is one of the few carvers left in the community.

“Investors prefer the Chinese than us because they (Chinese) have the equipment to produce more. For orders that we use three months to produce, the Chinese use two to three weeks to produce. That is why the business had gone down,” he said.

The once busy community is now a shadow of itself.

The few craftsmen left say the use of obsolete equipment could be attributed for the decline in the trade by investors.

Thirty-five-year-old Joe Plan started carving during his primary school days but he still uses the axe to carve. He can produce 200 pieces of craftwork in three months, an output that is way below the market demands. But it has become difficult for the lives of Joe to adopt the use of new and sophisticated equipment and machines to carve.

To achieve a craftwork, a piece of woodwork passes through various stages till it gets the perfect finish at the end. From the cutter to the polisher or decorate with a sandpaper to achieve a smooth surface. Then the designer will skillfully amplify the aesthetics of the woodwork to make it appealing. The Finisher then apply a final touch of brightness, often with paint.

This chain of processes provided jobs for many people especially the youth at every stage of the craft. But now, the situation is worse because the majority of carvers have abandoned the trade for other better ones.

One of them, Henry Akwasi Aning was once active in the trade. He started carving in 1994 but abandoned it after six years.

He started as a carver and cutter, producing so many pieces for exhibitions. At the exhibitions, he will sell everything and make a lot of money.

“Because it was very lucrative back then, it was this trade I used to take care of my siblings and even buy my taxi,” he said.

Another, former carver, who only gave his name as Amankwaah, is now a security guard at one of the microfinance companies in the community.

“I was wasting my time because there was no market and the money was not coming anymore. You invest but unable to make enough profit so I stopped,” said Amankwah.

The community had an exhibition centre which is currently covered with weeds and dust, where foreigners and other local investors came to buy craftworks exhibited there. It was a major tourism export which brought many people to the community. The rippling effect was the boost in economic activities.

But all these have ceased. The exhibition centre has been abandoned since 2010.

Efforts by the then Export Development and Agricultural Investment Fund (EDAIF) — now Exim Bank — to mobilise the carvers have been unsuccessful.

The National Business for Small Scale Industries has been involved in the project at the early stages. District Coordinator, Nana Sam Hinson, says the outfit at a point brought together the few carvers left and trained them in some business skills. He says loans were made available for those who could meet the requirement but only two made it.

Even with the two who qualified, they failed to complete the process.

“We provide small loans to carvers who were interested to continue the trade but most of them were unable to pay the loans and that affected the initiative which couldn’t continue,” said Mr Hinson.

Meanwhile, unavailability of a market has resulted in the few craftsmen to now work from their homes. Their market is now restricted to local products like centre tables, and catapult which is sold one for only GHS 1. Also, the few carvers left in the trade have to travel outside Kumasi to access market for their products.

Yaw Asare, Akwasi Ansah and some of the former carvers, meanwhile, speak of how they used to carry some of their works to Ivory Coast where the business was good.

Environmental concerns

The Forestry Commission in 2010 estimated that environmental degradation in the major natural resource sectors costs 5-10 per cent of GDP, with the forest sector accounting for 63 per cent ($500 million) of this cost,

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, 21.7 per cent of land in Ghana (equivalent to 4,940,000 hectares) is covered by forest (FAO, 2010).

Deforestation has been identified as a critical environmental issue and Ghana has lost more than 33.7 per cent of its forests, equivalent to 2,500,000 hectares, since the early 1990s. Between 2005 and 2010, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 2.19 per cent per annum; the sixth highest deforestation rate globally for that period.

Forest loss in Ghana is considered largely incremental rather than dramatic, that is the emphasis has primarily been on degradation caused by multiple drivers rather than one major industrial driver. One of such drivers is cutting down trees indiscriminately by wood carvers for their craft or fuelwood.

But the carvers in Ofoase are not the only guilty ones when it comes to cutting of trees, carvers in Ahwia also in Ashanti Region and other parts of the country depend heavily on the trees in the forest for trade. Amidst these challenges, few carvers have resolved to sustain the trade by practising afforestation activities to replenish the lost trees. They have planted 25 different species of trees on a land that the traditional authority gave them years back. For instance, Yaw Asare, who doubles as a farmer, has planted some of the tree species on part of his farm.

These are aimed at keeping the trees alive in the forest in the face of environmental degradation and climate change. Many efforts have been made to resurrect the craft and business in this community but it has been unsuccessful.

Regional Chairman for the Association of Small Scale Industry, Kwame Bour, was part of the earlier intervention to get the carvers together. Although he says the district authorities must put in more effort to revive the local industry, the roads leading to the carving communities must be fixed.

“It has been a major disincentive for investors to travel all the way [because] most often their vehicles will be damaged,” he said.

Clearly, a multi-stakeholder approach is needed to revitalise the craft, at least through government one-district one factory project in the face of high unemployment.



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