AfricaNow! continues building handcrafts exporters' competitiveness at SIAO 2012

Friday, November 16 2012

Joe Lamport

The handcrafts sector in West Africa is perhaps its most vibrant. Millions of people make handcrafts and skilled artisans generate income and create jobs thanks to their talents and abilities. The USAID West Africa Trade Hub launched AfricaNow! in 2009 to improve the sector’s competitiveness in world markets.

AfricaNow! is raising the profile of West African handcrafts in world markets.Exporting handcrafts is not easy. Thousands of small companies face a variety of hurdles. 

“It’s very complicated to export,” said Jacquie Atandji, who exports fashion accessories, including handbags, stylish women’s shoes and clothing to Europe under her brand, Jacquie Bijoux, in Togo. “There is a lot of paperwork and customs is not easy. And it costs enough.”

Oumar Cissé, known as Peace Corps Baba to many, exports fine bead necklaces and other accessories from Mali.

“Getting started in export is truly difficult,” he said. “My first trip was to Spain and I lost everything. I wasn’t discouraged, though, and on my second trip I returned to Spain and earned a bit.”


The challenges producers face are shared by exporters and international buyers.

“Shipping from West Africa can be a little tricky,” said Harper Poe who designs textiles at Proud Mary, an online boutique. “It’s expensive and it takes a long time compared to working in Central America or South America, where it’s pretty fast and easy.”

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Dougherty speaks at the opening ceremony of the handcraft
U.S. Ambassador Thomas Dougherty speaks at the opening ceremony of the AfricaNow! handcrafts exporters workshop. Photo by Moustafa Cheaiteli.
Yet handcrafts exports show signs of growth. Ghana saw exports increase by 28% in 2011 – from $2.8 million to $3.7 million. USAID Trade Hub assistance helped producers do major export deals in 2012. Under AfricaNow!, producers, exporters and buyers are making sourcing with confidence in West Africa a reality. AfricaNow! product development assistance led by Elaine Bellezza, the USAID Trade Hub sector advisor, has led to exciting new products that are attracting more buyers, too.

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The USAID Trade Hub supported the AfricaNow! brand and network at the 13th edition of the Salon International de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou to understand the issues affecting the sector. A three-day training workshop presented information and insights about exporting to almost 100 stakeholders from across the region.  Sessions focused on marketing, costing and pricing, access to finance and the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Exporters shared lessons learned and best practices as did a panel of international buyers.

AfricaNow! also facilitated the participation of international buyers at the show. They met with producers and exporters and laid the foundations for future handcrafts deals.

“Being on your own in a strange country for the first time and having a taxi ready waiting for you that is to start a great, great help,” said Gerrit Preijde, who imports products to Europe under his Asase brand. “Then, being brought to the hotel where everything is made in order for your reception – being invited for workshops, being invited to meet producers – all that kind of stuff, it’s amazing.” 

The network has opened West Africa to buyers who might not have considered it previously.

“I wouldn’t have been able to start working in Africa if it hadn’t been for AfricaNow!,” said Poe of Proud Mary. “AfricaNow! is very set up and they know their producers really well. They have great relationships with them.

A Touareg jeweler exhibits his products at SIAO 2012.
A Touareg jeweler exhibits his products at SIAO 2012. Photo by Moustafa Cheaiteli.
“So, when I came last year to start working on products, I felt comfortable with the groups I was meeting with – that they would be willing to compromise and work with me on designs and that they would have the capacity to produce and be willing to consolidate the exporting. So, I kind of knew that that was already set up – because I’m only one person, I can’t do that myself.”

Producers also appreciate the support of AfricaNow!

“It helps us a lot because if there are clients who write to us and they come with the support of AfricaNow! – that gives courage and confidence to clients, above all. That’s very important.”

“Frankly, it’s a good job, truly,” said Joelle le Bussy Fal of Galerie Arte in Senegal. “Because what AfricaNow! is doing, in fact, is a lot of training and support to artisans, to guide them, to show them how to do export, show them the path.

“And at the same time, Elaine develops designers and helps artisans improve their products, making them marketable in international markets and more suitable to American tastes and European tastes.”


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