The impact of COVID-19 on African basketry

Basket weaver in Uganda

The last two years have been a difficult time for everyone, and that includes the basket weavers in Africa.

Almost all of the weaving groups we work with told us that all of their buyers cancelled their orders when the pandemic began … except for us. We continued ordering throughout the pandemic even if we didn’t immediately need the baskets. We wanted to help the weavers maintain at least some of their income when markets collapsed.

Although it seems most of Africa had lower rates of COVID infection than other parts of the world, some basket weavers returned to subsistence farming or other activities during the pandemic, since their other orders from Europe and the US had been cancelled. We aren’t sure if or when they might return to weaving.

We will probably never know the full impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Africa, but the biggest impact on African basketry seems to be that weavers went off and did other things to survive when so many buyers cut their orders, rather than the health impact of the disease itself.

Now, as some of those other foreign buyers are coming back and placing orders, many of the weaving groups do not have enough weavers to meet all the new orders. That makes it challenging for us to get enough baskets. Although the weavers are thankful to us for being loyal and supportive during the pandemic, they don’t want to disappoint other buyers, so we’re working with what they are able to supply to us now.

We have decades-long relationships with some of the weavers, and we all recognize that it’s not good for a weaving group to be 100% reliant on us, even though many of them were during the pandemic. It’s better for them to diversify their customer base. This is true of all businesses around the world.

And although making baskets is an indigenous traditional craft, making them for sale to buyers from other countries is truly a business. As part of our commitment to Fair Trade, we coach the weaving groups on best practices for their grass roots businesses. This is one of the many ways we partner with and support the weavers in Africa.