As you bump along the dusty red tracks towards the village of Katangi, women are going about their daily chores of collecting water and visiting the market. Many are busy weaving baskets as they go – a traditional skill that women in this district have passed down through the generations. The women belong to the Kamba tribe, and the baskets they weave are used to carry the harvest.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the harvest has been very poor. Yatta district has experienced such severe drought that many of the women co-operative members are reliant on food aid from the government and must often walk long distances to fetch water. The baskets are made from sisal – a drought resistant and environmentally friendly crop that will grow even in areas that receive very little rainfall. Skilfully woven baskets of different shapes, sizes and colours spill out of the co-operative’s premises.
The project, funded by the CoopAfrica programme and delivered by the Co-operative College of Kenya, has brought almost 700 women together and helped them to form Bahati Weavers Co-operative Society Limited. The co-operative plans to generate enough income to eventually provide members with a regular dividend. However, for the co-operative, market access presents their major challenge. As Scolla Ndunda, secretary of the co-operative explains: “The biggest problem for us now is finding the market”.
The women do not know how to tailor styles, colours and designs to meet market demand and market research is costly and impractical.
“This is a big challenge”, explains Mr. Stanley Wanjohi of the Co-operative College of Kenya, “our task is support the development of the co-operative and to help them find new markets for their products.”
The co-operative, which was registered in September 2011, is still finding its feet, but the co operative spirit is powerful. The women clap and sing as they hear how the Rochdale Pioneers had so little money they had to push a wheelbarrow 20km to buy their first supplies. There is still a long way to go for this new co-operative, but with continued support from the Co-operative College of Kenya, they are optimistic that they can turn a traditional skill into a viable business.