Artisans double earnings as project opens up market opportunities


Kibera, which is one of the largest urban slums in East and Central Africa, has a large population of youth and a high unemployment rate, which contributes to drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and crime.

The whirring, squeaking and clanking of machines can be heard as one approaches the tin-walled workshop at Makina market in Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slum. Here, 42-year-old Ben Onyango has been cutting, sharpening, shaping and drilling waste materials like bones and seeds into admirable pieces of art, which include beads and animal carvings that have found their way into local and international markets.

Onyango is the lead artist at Bemos Craft Developers, an arts enterprise which aims to improve livelihoods of the youth in Kibera by training them on income generating projects in the crafts industry.

“Bemos empowers these young men and women to learn the craft that utilizes recycled and waste materials. When they are actively involved in arts like carving and bead making, they earn income to improve their lives and have less time to indulge in drugs and crime. ” Says Onyango, as he tightens a white mask on his nose to protect him from inhaling the swirling dust from the grinder.

Onyango boasts of four grinders and a driller down from one that he started with in the year 2000. Despite the tremendous expansion in his business, the last few years have been very difficult compared to the formative years of his business venture. His products and those of other groups in the sector have been struggling to fetch good prices due to limitations in accessing local and international markets.

“We used to sell beads at KES1 (USD 0.1) each, with a necklace of 50 beads fetching a paltry Ksh50 (USD 0.5). Cumulatively, we used to make a profit of KES 3000 which was barely enough to pay wages to my staff as well as something small for my personal need.” Explains Onyango, a father of four.

But fortunes for Bemos’ members changed after they partnered with the Kenya Federation of Alternative Trade (KEFAT). KEFAT is a network of Fair Trade producers in Kenya that aims at improving the livelihoods and well-being of marginalized Kenyan producers through innovative approaches to market access on Fair Trade terms

With a grant from the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), KEFAT  is working with artisan groups to improve the livelihoods of marginalized youth and women by creating opportunities through development of sustainable handcraft enterprises.

The project targets youth in Korogocho and Kibera slums in Nairobi County and has benefitted  Bega kwa Bega, Heavenly Treasures and Bemos Crafts Developers artisans groups  through the grant awarded

KEFAT Country Network Coordinator, Edwin Bett, says the project that is on its second phase is working with the artisans to improve their craft skills for quality products and enhance marketing of their products by linking them to a wide distribution network both locally and internationally.

Edwin says the craft industry has a huge potential for employment creation but majority of youth who venture into the trade lose out due limited market access and lack of business management skills.

“With the support from KCDF, we trained the groups on product improvement and they were able to develop new products which we sold overseas and gave them their money. We have also facilitated the groups to participate in various exhibitions and partnered with the groups to produce marketing materials like fliers, brochures and banners which go a long way in advertising their products.” says Bett.

Through the project which started in 2012, the artisans have formally registered their groups which were largely informal and have acquired financial literacy and business management skills. A revolving fund has also been created to assist the participating groups with loans to further develop their business.

Onyango says through these initiatives, the quality of their products have improved tremendously and prices have tripled with beads selling at KES 5 up from KES 1. The products fetch even better prices in the international market as they are able to reach buyers though online marketing.

KEFAT has also helped us start a group savings and loan scheme where members get credit facilities to expand their workshops. As a result of improved business, I am able to save at least KES 500 every week and get loans to pay school fees for my children as well as meet all business related overheads with ease.” says Onyango..

Under the second phase, KEFAT will be working with member groups on various fronts such as continuous product development, development of a website for enhanced access to the market and management of an inventory system.

KEFAT has developed a strategic plan, which captures key elements of growth and sustainability such as resource mobilisation, organizational development and membership development services. The strategy also introduces product branding which will promote the groups handicrafts in the global market. KEFAT has also partnered with Mazuri Kenya, an online marketing platform to help promote the groups’ products at the international market.

 “We want Mazuri Kenya to exclusively sell products by KEFAT members through a negotiated revenue sharing arrangement.”  Said Bett.

Bett says the project has a knock-off effect in creating employment opportunities  for  women and youth in the slums to earn income for their families.

Bett notes that the beneficiaries have also been empowered to act as role models in their communities where they advocate for attention to issue affecting marginalized groups. A woman official of Bega kwa Bega group is already a champion of gender and development issues and was invited to address the WEIGO conference on women development held in Indonesia in November (2014).

To sustain its activities, KEFAT plans to transform into a consulting firm that offer business management skills and product development training in craft items.

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