Government, through the ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, has stepped up efforts of developing the handicrafts and souvenirs industry as a way of not only promoting the country’s tourism sector but also employment, especially among the women and youth, writes ERNEST JJINGO.
Tourism ministry permanent secretary Doreen Katusiime has said government’s three-year handicraft and souvenir development project will boost market access to link producers to buyers and improve the quality of these products.
She said this during the first ever Uganda Handicrafts Expo which ran from November 24 to November 26 at the Uganda museum grounds under the theme “Rethinking Tourism through Culture and Creative Hands.”
“As a ministry we started this three-year project with a focus of mainly supporting the producers of handicraft products to gain access to wider markets through linkage with exporters and improvement on the quality of their products. The target beneficiaries were mainly traders, exporters and producers particularly women and youth groups,” she said.
Katusiime added that handicraft makers have also been supported mainly in areas of capacity building, training in building their leadership and governance structures, product design and market development, fair trade certification, quality management and using E commerce.
“Through this project, we were able to produce and publish an export manual, we did a branding and marketing strategy, we produced a handicrafts catalogue and also developed the code of conduct for operators in the handicrafts sector. We have also facilitated access to market information and business promotion, interactive websites for the producers.”
Tom Butime, the minister of Tourism, further noted that for the next financial year, government has already budgeted for the continuation of trainings and capacity building of handicraftsmen as well as boosting market access and construction of modern production centers in every region.
“Right now we are finishing the construction of a production center in Masindi and government has planned construction of three more with one to be in Fort Portal and another in the Eastern region. These production centres will enable craftsmen in each region to easily produce, showcase and sell their products,” Butime said.
Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, who was the chief guest at the opening of the expo, said the handicraft and souvenir development project is therefore critical in prompting inclusiveness, skills development and linkages between producers and traders of handicraft products and the tourism industry.
“I have no doubt that the handicraft products will empower our local communities especially the women to tap into the tourism revenue. Handicrafts can easily be made by people from the comfort of their homes but it is the quality which has been lacking. But through the funds given to the ministry of tourism, these craftsmen will be able to at least get machines that can make high quality handicrafts which can compete on the international markets. I therefore give you assurance that government is committed to championing this sector,” Nabbanja said.
However, Edward Kasango, a handicraft exhibitor from Jinja said that the main challenge they are facing is financial support because without it, it is difficult for them to get the materials needed to produce their craft products due to being very expensive.
“I wish the government can extend financial support directly to us. Many Ugandans have not yet started appreciating handicraft products and I think this is because they are expensive given the fact that we take a long period of time making them since we have no machines to simplify the work. But with the required financing, we can be able to purchase machines thus continuous production,” Kasango said.
He added that the production and exhibition centers government is planning to setup in regions will enable them to collectively display their products and make it easy for buyers especially tourists to access them.
Uganda produces an array of handicrafts and souvenir products ranging from baskets, mats, musical instruments, hand woven products, antiques, ceramics, wood carvings, textiles, leather works, ornaments among others and all these were on display during the expo which brought together producers and consumers of crafts products from all over the country.