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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Samburu women seek to turn beadwork into lucrative venture, eye global market

By The Frontier Post Reporter

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Bead ornaments are popular souvenirs among tourists in Kenya and those who have ventured into this trade always smile to the bank.

However, there has been an outcry among bead makers about middlemen who have infiltrated the trade and always buy the items at a throwaway prices, hence denying the ornaments makers the opportunity to earn decent living from their work.

It is on this backdrop that more than 300 pastoralist women in Samburu took training on mechanised beadwork, so they can make and sell their jewellery globally.

Known as the Ushanga Initiative Kenya, the training is expected to benefit the women by boosting their income and also give them the opportunity of selling their jewellery directly to clients for better return.

This is also expected to end the exploitive acts from middlemen who often sell their jewellery internationally at huge profits at the expense of the poor bead workers.

To aggravate the plight of the pastoralist women, they are traditionally denied their right to own property, a cultural vice that often leaves them with no income.

However, the training has given them the opportunity to know how to how to use machines to string beads faster and more easily and produce ornaments that meet international market standards.

The Ushanga Initiative Kenya seeks to strengthen business and production capacity for the Samburu women as well as improve their competitiveness of bead products in local, regional and international markets for sustainable livelihoods.

Samburu County Executive Member for Tourism, Trade and Cooperatives Peter Leshakwet said women have traditionally made beads for personal decoration but they are seeking to turn the venture into a lucrative business.

“It has been a traditional venture for a long time. We are seeking to help women harness their potential and turn the venture into a lucrative business,” Leshakwet said, as he thanked the Ushanga Initiative Kenya for transforming the cultural activity into a business to help transform the lives of pastoralist women.

According to Mr Leshakwet, the training will help the women save time since they will use machines to make work easier.

He said the Samburu government will work with the Ushanga Initiative Kenya to produce enough beadwork for both the domestic and international markets.

“The machines will help women improve on designs, increase efficiency and make different items that will be competitive in both local and international markets,” he said.

Florence Lesooli, a bead crafter, expressed optimism that the move to train women will help boost the beadwork business in Samburu, which has been dealt a blow in the past year by the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2017, the government started the Ushanga initiative among Maa speaking communities to support women who have over the years displayed unique skills in beadwork.

The Ushanga initiative aims at creating jobs and transforming the living standards of the pastoralist women through the commercialisation of beadwork, but the coronavirus pandemic dealt the project a blow.

During the pre-pandemic period, the project offered a ray of hope to women from marginalised communities in West Pokot, Narok, Baringo, Samburu, Turkana, Marsabit and Kajiado counties.

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