From the other side of the phone I can hear a very enthusiastic gentleman, almost as if he was always ready to speak to me with little to no knowledge of who and why I was speaking to him. This was before I introduced myself. I can gather that he never misses an opportunity to spread word of the groundbreaking and community transforming work that the women of Kataara 1 village do and pride in. Moses Agaba is the Founder of Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group (KWPAG), but does most of his work as the Project Coordinator for the group’s activities.
Moses Agaba - Founder KWPAG
Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group was started in 2005 with only 10 members but has since grown to a membership of 83 consisting of 60 women, 18 girls and 5 men. The majority are women. For a couple of hours in and out of network zones between Buikwe and Rubiriizi, we had an engaging conversation on the work and growth of the women and handicraft business at KWPAG and the community at large. The group is located in Kataara 1 village, Kataara parish, Kichwamba sub county, Rubirizi district.
The premise of the group, according to Moses, was as a result of a lot of human-elephant conflict in the village from the elephants of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Not only were elephants being poached for being the “enemy”, but also crops grown by the villagers were being destroyed and thus interfering with the primary livelihood of the community. Parents, especially fathers who poached also lost lives in the process of poaching, rendering their children orphaned.
The formation of the group aimed at finding a co-existing balance between humans and preservation of elephants from extinction, to grow household incomes. KWPAG has since been in agreement with Uganda Wildlife Authority to access the park from which they collect raw material (dung and more) for their craft business.
From elephant dung, the women create dung paper, with which they make visitors books for offices and homes, guest books for lodges and tourists accommodation, photo albums, notebooks, diaries, postcards, greeting cards, shopping bags, paper bracelets, earrings and necklaces among a lot more products for home and personal use. Elephant dung has proved to be an enormous resource to the community.
We spoke at length at what this business means for the women and the handicraft sector at large and for many, it has been lucrative in more ways than one; the women have gone on to be professional in their production given the limit in production tools. Moses explains that 25% of sales is given to the women as motivation to continue making the handicrafts; this is mainly because they practice farming at the boundary of Queen Elizabeth National Park and they always end up losing their crops to the elephants. 5% is for the children orphaned due to poaching, towards scholastic materials/ books and pens. 20% goes toward compensation for destroyed crops. 50% of the sales is towards the savings and credit scheme through which they access loans that they use to start other small businesses to improve household income; like retail shops, selling dry coffee, retailing clothes and crop produce.
With great pride, Moses re-iterates that establishing what has become the only handicraft center around the park managed by and for the community is by far their greatest strength. With the government’s efforts to create linkages between producers of local handcrafted products and the tourism industry, they are reaping fruits in the form of partnerships that boost up the handicraft center including hotels and lodges around the park that send guests over to the center for demo activities and product purchasing. With more products purchased by the foreigners and tourists, the preservation of culture is promoted since a lot of these products embody respective cultural heritage.
Their clientele spans countries across Europe and the Americas; for example, Moses says, they have recently had 600 bags going to Europe. The support from WWF and UNDP has been pivotal in not only establishing the centre and group, but also in providing machinery for production to create efficiency as WWF has done.
The center is however not devoid of challenges. As expected, the demand for products is high but the skill level of the women is low. The women have to learn as they go. Moses shares that they are trying their best to train more and build capacity such that they can make a larger variety of products than they are making now; or at least more out of the ordinary.
The struggle extends to mindsets. The women have long depended on agriculture and so it hasn’t been easy to get them to try new avenues of income like the handicrafts business, even with the constant loss of their crops to elephants. While the beekeeping fencing the boundary of the park is designed to keep the animals away in the meantime, the center is slowly roping them in with community tourism which allows them to experience the tourists at a personal level in their homes and so they are encouraged to join in on making art that appeals to the tourists.
The success of the Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group is evident in the growing professionalism of their work and the fact that a lot of the women have managed to chart a career path for themselves. The women are at liberty to work either at home or the center as they collect materials from the center.
They are further empowered with the opportunity to engage tourists in community experience activities and dung paper demonstrations.
It is clear that the center is only going up from here with membership growing every other time and real people finding real resources from a lucrative business path regardless of their skill level as they grow and learn.
Written by: Karen Ihimbazwe Amanyire
HOW TO REACH: Kataara Women's Poverty Alleviation Group
Photos by : Chris Lutanga & International Trade Centre
This article was produced as part of the Handicraft Souvenir and Development Project implemented by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and the International Trade Centre funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework .