A strategy to increase Uganda’s tourism exports, especially handicrafts and souvenirs to at least $300,000 (1 billion shillings), is in the works. According to the Ministry of Tourism, this requires quality assurance, skills upgrading and standardization of Ugandan products.
Ms. Doreen Katusiime, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, said this would be achieved by putting locally produced baskets, drums, jewelry, woodcarvings online.
“We have developed websites for at least 10 indigenous businesses involved in crafts and souvenirs. These are linked to our own website (at the Ministry of Tourism). We hope visibility and deal-making will be possible for Ugandan products online,” Ms. Katusiime said.
This deliberate drive to ensure the online presence of handicrafts and souvenirs is also expected to slow the influx into the region and beyond of synthetic imitation handicrafts which are now on the rise.
The Ministry of Tourism hosts the Crafts and Souvenirs Development Project, which is supported by the Enhanced Integrated Framework (CIR); with, among other objectives, improving the quality, standards and marketing of tourism exports such as souvenirs to boost foreign exchange.
Craft and souvenir producers should use the new websites to improve the quality of their products and ensure targeted online marketing. This decision reinforces the desire to strengthen the influx of dollars from tourism; largely mitigated by the effects of Covid-19 on the global leisure and hospitality industry.
“The Lango Heritage Center works with local artisans. We must continue to add value to their efforts. We are one of the 10 companies selected and websites have been developed for us as part of the Crafts and Souvenirs Development Project,” says Mr John Have, Director of the Lango Heritage Centre.
Acknowledging the impact of this online marketing campaign associated with tourism exports, Mr. Have said: “This effort adds value to our craft marketing work that meets international market demand. This means that unlike before, our products are seen all over the world. When a souvenir is chosen in Uganda, it must continue to meet the expectations of international buyers.
Ms. Katusiime points out: “Travellers always want souvenirs unique to Uganda. Therefore, you cannot separate craftsmanship from tourism.
Given the particular profile of products such as drums, baskets, cow horn, jewelry and others that are unique to each region of Uganda, clustering has been undertaken to ensure tailored interventions.
Mr. Moses Byentaro, Team Leader at Byentaro Ceramics, says, “We produce a range of ceramic products entirely from clay which we harvest in a highly sustainable manner with respect for the environment. Ugandan products now compete very well with some synthetic items that we find in some places.
A beneficiary of the Handicrafts and Souvenirs Development Project, which champions improved skills, standards and levels of quality assurance in the manufacture of products suitable for tourism exports, Mr. Byentaro adds: “We had the chance to be trained in various disciplines on how to improve our products. through diversity and quality. Online presence through websites gives our business a competitive edge.
“Initially, online was not our avenue. Now it increases our exposure and it will probably lead us to more opportunities within international exhibitions, which is one of the routes towards increasing volumes and income,” Mr. Byentaro said.
According to an online content developer and designer, Mr. Dickson Mushabe, these businesses selling handicrafts and meeting a growing demand. Having their products online means that one can easily see them, buy a basket, a drum or any souvenir. This growing demand means that these companies will close deals faster than they look forward to physical purchases. Thus, the choice of products and payments are all done online.
Mr. Mushabe, Regional Director of Hostalite East Africa, said the active presence of Ugandan producers and sellers of these handicrafts and souvenirs can give this sub-sector a boost to sustain jobs and incomes.
This particular development in improving and streamlining the direct online presence and marketing of indigenous handicrafts and souvenirs is seen as a potential tool to position Ugandan exports.
As part of the Handicrafts and Souvenirs Development Project, the Rwenzori Sustainable Trade Centre, one of the leading sellers of Ugandan-made baskets in the international market, says the online platform is now working wonders for them.
“Our partners Ngombe Womens’ Group, who are directly involved in the manufacture of these baskets, have greatly improved the quality, standards and volumes. Our market has expanded beyond Uganda and Africa to Europe and the United States,” explains Ms. Margarate Kas, the director.
She says the Fort Portal City-based women’s organization has benefited from training on governance, standards and better production skills which, combined, now make it much easier to market their baskets online.
“Our organization into groups has been very effective in mobilizing members to produce an almost uniform standard of baskets. Our quality is also much better day by day. We now want to make sure that as many buyers as possible can buy our products online. Ms. Kas says.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the handicrafts and souvenirs sub-sector is part of “the government’s efforts to diversify and increase exports of non-traditional exports while supporting job creation and employment as planned in Uganda Vision 2040, National Trade Policy 2008 and National Tourism Development Master Plan 2014/2024 among others.
Pace Blacksmithing Wood and Craft Association, there is a need to improve these tourism products which are commonly produced by communities in the North and West Nile regions of the country.
“Our grandparents have always transmitted this knowledge to us from generation to generation. We mainly manufacture art and craft pieces of wild animals, indoor and outdoor decorations, furniture and various metal objects from the forge,” said Mr. Joseph Ocakacon, secretary of the Pace Blacksmithing Wood and Craft Association, based in Packwach.
He adds that as part of the tourism export development project, they have been exposed to other competitive products made in the region at annual exhibitions such as the East African Jua Kali conventions in Arusha, Tanzania. .
“We are improving day by day. We now know what products are in demand, what we need to do to improve them, how to price them, and how to use the internet and websites more effectively to promote what we have,” says Ocakacon.
In eastern Uganda, the Jinja City-based Women in Entrepreneurship Development project is also pioneering a unique production of handicrafts and souvenirs made from cow horns.
Founded over 15 years ago, Ms. Prossy Nankya, says their business has never made more sense than it does today; two years after intense training in quality assurance under the Crafts and Souvenirs Development Project.
“We have improved some of the equipment we use to design and produce various products such as mugs, forks, spoons and other cow horn items. Our products are better. Now we want to take them to the international market,” Ms. Nankya.
In Mpigi District, the Mpambire Community Drum Makers Association also sources cow hides and skins, a key material they use in making various assortments of drums. Mr. Isaac Buwule, the secretary of the association, says that they have tackled the selective sourcing of wood with consideration for the environment.
“Even though we need money, we no longer just cut down trees to get wood to make drums. We can also make more standardized drums, mark them very well and include the price. We want to make sure buyers scan and are able to tell the source (Mpambire),” says Mr Buwule.
However, despite the various remarkable results that these diverse enterprises are achieving under the crafts and souvenirs development project, virtually all of them are awaiting new standards on arts and crafts pieces from the regulatory agency of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards UNBS.
“We are working closely with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards UNBS, to ensure that the standards required for each of the products produced by our artisans across the country are ready. We need to ensure that all the boxes for compliance with national, regional and international markets are fully checked,” Ms. Katusiime points out.