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Artisan Stories: Basket Co-Operative, Kenya

Basket Co-Operative, Kenya


Our baskets are made by a co-operative of over 400 women in East Kenya. The area is prone to low rainfall and, when harvests failed, the villagers would previously resort to poaching for food. Selling baskets gives the women a year-round income so they can provide for their families even if crops fail.

The Kasigau Corridor in East Kenya was once rich in wildlife but slash-and-burn farming and poaching meant the community had ravaged their forest in order to survive. The basket project was set up by an environmental charity in 1997 to give local people an alternative income and protect engandered species.

Sisal


Sisal is a species of the Agave plant. It has long sword-shaped leaves and grows readily in hot climates. Each leaf contains around 1,000 fibres that can be used to make twine, paper and carpets. It's an eco-friendly crop as it doesn't require pesticides or herbicides to grow.

How is it made?


Co-operative members benefit from every stage of the basket production. The sisal leaves are harvested from their own fields, beaten and combed to extract the fibre. The ladies then hand-spin the fibre into twine and colour it with dyes. The skill of weaving the baskets is embedded in the Taita tribal culture and passed down from mother to daughter. Each basket takes three days to weave.

How your purchase improves lives


Basket weaving brings the women together and gossiping, singing and dancing all form part of the weekly meetings. The co-operative structure is empowering because the women have an equal say in business decisions and vote on how profits are spent. All the women can afford medical care and schooling for their children. The co-operative's success has given endangered plants and animals the chance to recover.

"I am a widow with two children and I also care for five orphans: three of my sister-in-law’s children and two of my grandchildren. Now I earn good money from making baskets we all have enough to eat and I can pay for the children to go to school and buy their uniforms, books and pens" Alice

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Image credits: Hadithi