Harnessing potentials of natural resources in Zambia

Sifuwe Mwangala

With what others call weed or trash, Namakau Muhau of Muoyo Royal Village in Western part of Zambia, in Southern Africa, saw beauty and opportunities in it. 65-year-old Namakau’s ability to see potential in ordinary objects demonstrates her resourcefulness and commitment to sustainable practices.

A hat and bag designed

She uses grass and weeds to weave baskets, huts, brooms and bags and also picks empty packets of biscuits from the streets and transforms them into fashionable handbags.  While her friends attended formal training at craft centres near their locality, Namakau improved her skill through observation and an unwavering determination to learn.

Namakau Muhau

Her journey is a testament to the power of resourcefulness, creativity, and the pursuit of one’s passions.  The baskets that Namakau weaves are used for decorations, storing household goods and even carry groceries and food stuff when the women go out for shopping.

“Carrying shopping product in the baskets is easy and reduces the throwing of litter anyhow, which also protects the environment,” she notes.  Unlike other women that depends on the government for their livelihood or well-wishers to give handouts, Namakau and her group, comprising of three women and a man, weaving and crafting has helped them earn an income to sustain themselves and their families.

“Life has been difficult for me, especially that my husband left me ten years ago,” she recalls. “But I refused to be dependent on the government or wait for handouts. I found something to do, something that brought me joy and helped me provide for myself and my family.”

Namakau doing her design

Namakau explains that she picks dry grass and reeds from the open forest and uses it to make the baskets and handbags for business, noting that “as a country, we are currently experiencing drought, as we have not had enough rain, so even the grass is dry hence we use the same grass to make traditional items.”

Namakau’s resourcefulness and creativity not only enriched her own life but also had a positive impact on her community.  Through her innovative creations, Namakau not only showcases her artistic ability but also advocates for waste management, sustainable practices and the impact of pollution environment. Hence the reason she also picks used biscuits packets and turns them into handbags that she later sells.

“I make sure that my environment is clean from any harmful substances, therefore I pick litter such as used biscuits packets which I normally use to make ladies bags. “We formed a group comprising three women and one man, so the three of us are specialised in weaving and the man is into curving traditional wooden plates that are used as warmers,” she disclosed.

Namakau explains that at times there are women that come to observe what they do; therefore, they use the opportunity to sensitise them on the benefits of recycling and providing guidance on proper waste disposal.

Through their collective efforts, they are also able to earn a sustainable income that supports not only themselves but as well as their families.

By using these natural materials, these artisans are reducing their reliance on non-renewable resources and contribute to sustainable resource management. For 60-year-old Kandombwe Kapenda who is the only man in Namakau’s group, who also hails from Muoyo Royal Village carving wooden plates became part of his life after he could no longer continue with school due to lack of resources.

Kapenda who is married with five children says wooden plates hold a special place in African tradition as it served as both a storage of food and decorations. “The wooden plates are not only a vessel for food storage but also bearers of heritage and symbolism,” he said.

Kapenda further explains that he usually carves under a tree where he sits with others and keep alive the stories and customs of his ancestors, adding that by so doing, the historic knowledge about the rich African culture is passed on from one generation to the other.

By practising and passing down these skills from one generation to the next, artisans contribute to the preservation of traditional knowledge and cultural practices. However, Kapenda and his fellow artisans face challenges in accessing reliable marketplaces to showcase their creations to a wider audience.

“We appeal for assistance for assistance in terms of market linkages because we come from a small area where only a few people are able to buy our products,” he said. Kapenda believes that the carving of wooden plates can become a sustainable and economically viable industry that supports numerous families while preserving the African traditions.

A Nalolo based Agriculture expert Boyd Mutengo says weaving baskets and carving wooden plates serve as adaptive mechanisms to climate change and variability. “Weaving acts as a source of income during drought and summer periods, as the materials are easily accessible in the open forest,” Mutengo adds.  Mutengo advises that to ensure sustainability, the artisans should plant trees regularly to replace those used in their craft work.

Mutengo, an agriculturalist, advocates for tree planting as an effective way to mitigate the effects of climate change.  “It is important for people who are involved in weaving and carving must always engage in practices such as reforestation and sustainable harvesting to ensure the long-term availability of the resources they depend on,” he said.

Mutengo has also encouraged the group to explore opportunities by participating in local craft fairs, national events celebration, community events and farmers activities to showcase their creations and also to widen their market.

“The group can also collaborate and partner with local organisations and the hospitality industry by having their products displayed for visitors and tourists to easily access them,” he advised. Namakau and her group’s story serves as an inspiration to others. It illustrates the power of determination, resourcefulness, and the pursuit of one’s passion.

The women usually come together and discuss various issues that affect their day-to-day life. This helps them find solutions to many situations and it keeps them busy as they rest from other house chores. Their ability to find value in what others discard and transform it into something meaningful. It’s a reminder that opportunities for success and fulfilment can be found in the most unexpected places.

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