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Mwehe and MJ

Meet Kasinde Crafts

Kasinde Crafts is an online platform that supports and promotes businesses and social enterprises in East Africa

We’re excited to introduce Kasinde Crafts to you, who have kindly agreed to write a guest blog post about their work for us! 

About Kasinde Crafts

Kasinde Crafts (KC) is a business organisation that supports and promotes local social enterprises, community groups, and local businesses in East Africa. We sell a large variety of handmade pieces – from traditional to ultra-modern designs. All our goods are made using sustainably sourced, natural materials. Though KC was officially registered as a business in 2020, we have been in operation since 2011. 

One of our communities: Kasigau

Kasigau is located in an “elephant corridor” that connects the Tsavo West National Park with the Tsavo East National Park. Here, you can find the largest concentration of elephants in Kenya. This, sadly, means that there are resource conflicts, as there are issues with elephants invading farms. In addition, climate change has made it much harder to rely solely on agriculture as a means of income.

Sunset in Kasigau, Kenya
Photo by Geoff Livingstone

The majority of residents are women, as most men (as well as young people) move to nearby towns to look for jobs. Basket weaving is one of the few activities that give the remaining women a sense of agency – despite all social, economic and ecological barriers that hinder them. 

How Kasinde Crafts began

Mwehe is one of two KC co-founders. In 2011, he started working with Kasigau basket weavers to help increase their household incomes. He improved their visibility in the international markets and encouraged them not to just depend on natural resources. 

Mwehe walking with basket weavers
Mwehe choosing baskets

Early successes

The initial group of Kasigau basket weavers earned just Kshs. 50,000 per year (ca. £351 in 2011). However, just a few years later, their income had risen to more than Kshs. 500, 000 per year (ca. £3,514 in 2014). 

Today, there are seven artisan groups, whose earnings benefit more than 1,200 community members in Kasigau.

Influences

Mwehe’s initial aim was to provide a platform that would empower the weavers to advance their own socio-economic development. 

However, after leaving Kasigau to pursue his Master’s in Environmental Management, several events changed his approach to working with rural communities:

  • Just after graduation, Mwehe worked for an international organisation in Mozambique and had the opportunity to travel around the country. He realised that poverty – caused by many economic and cultural factors – kept most citizens in rural areas. This particularly affected women, who often could not find realistic routes to improve their lives and empower themselves, despite possessing many traditional skills.
  • In 2019, Mwehe visited some groups in Uganda with a client. In one Western Ugandan town, Fort Portal, Mwehe again observed how socio-cultural norms affected individuals, particularly women, when it came to food production and income generation.
  • On his return in November 201920, Mwehe worked with a local organisation that supports women suffering from social stigma due to living with HIV and AIDS. He was impressed by their work, which helped improve the quality of these women artisans’ traditional Ugandan goods. 
Basket weavers in Kenya
Basket weavers in Kenya

The launch of Kasinde Crafts

All these events inspired Mwehe to seek new, external markets for products from both Kenya and Uganda. 

Mwehe and Kasinde Crafts’ co-founder M.J. met by chance when working on a different business project in Kenya. They realised they were both passionate about community development, African handmade products, and social enterprises. Their skills and experiences complemented each other, and they started to collaborate. 

They founded Kasinde Crafts in 2020 to engage with rural artisans and to promote their crafts to various local and international markets.

Despite being a new organisation, KC’s strength lies in their years of experience of working with groups and individuals in rural parts of Kenya and Uganda. 

The key challenges for rural artisans

Most of the hardships rural artisans encounter are two-fold: they have no access to profitable markets and little knowledge of market requirements.

Some of these challenges create bottlenecks in production. These are: 

  • Difficulty in accessing raw materials. Sisal, palm leaves, wood, reeds as well as dyes need to be easily accessible, of high quality and affordable, which can be difficult for poorer communities. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in fake dyes that are cheaper, but lower in quality. For some groups, e.g. in Kasigau and Taitu, sisal growth is also affected by wildlife invasion issues (e.g. elephants and baboons). That’s why good-quality raw materials sometimes have to be ordered in bulk from areas that are further away.
  • Lack of mobile phones with a camera function. These are needed to send high-resolution pictures for updates or to collect payments. (However, payments can sometimes exceed their mobile money limits.)
  • Poor mobile signal coverage. This means it can take a long time to send and receive information.
  • Time conflicts caused by other community activities. In rural areas, sometimes weavers have to take part in other community-wide activities while weaving their products.
  • Logistical difficulties. Some artisans live in remote parts of Uganda and Kenya. Sending the final products to Nairobi/Embu is costly and sometimes challenging, as transport methods are not always consistent. 

How Kasinde Crafts is helping local artisans to overcome these problems

We have been able to create a system that manages these obstacles. For example, we:

  • Visit rural locations and weaving groups.
  • Create relationships with internet café attendants who print order forms for weavers.
  • Work with vehicle transport services and individuals to ensure our products reach us in the most efficient and affordable way.
  • Ask weavers to find individuals with access to WhatsApp and a good camera to take better product pictures.
  • Find quality suppliers of dyes and sisal and put these in touch with our weavers.
  • Make sure to be transparent about these charges in our invoices. 
  • Increase our online visibility. We have commissioned a website, which will help us spread the word about our work and our artisans. 
Cyber cafe in Kenya
Cyber café in Kenya
Road in rural kenya
Some of the better sections of road!

We recognise the need for rural artisans to diversify their sources of income. This is one way in which they can increase their resilience to multiple ecological, economic and socio-political issues. 

Consequently, as part of our engagement strategy, we aim to provide training for weavers that is not just about improving product quality. 

We are planning to offer training in other fields, such as financial literacy and management, or skills in different areas of their daily lives related to agricultural development and agro-pastoralism. We also aim to provide more training in the use of various dyes and achieving the best outputs in craft production.

So, although we are technically a new organisation, KC has vast experience in engaging with the weavers and solid knowledge of external markets. 

We now hope to use our expertise to improve local social enterprises managed by rural communities. 

Support Kasinde Crafts by following them on Facebook and Instagram.

And, of course, have a look at their lovely products in our online shop! Why not treat yourself to a basket today?