BUTHA-BUTHE- Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) and a non-governmental organisation, Action Lesotho, have entered into partnership to promote the art and craft industry in Butha-Buthe district as part of promoting artists and craftspeople to take advantage of the tourism activities in the district.
Under the agreement signed between the two parties, the craftspeople in the area would use the Butha-Buthe Tourist Information Centre (TIC), located just after the Caledonspoort border post, which is the gateway for all tourists entering the country from South Africa on their way to Afri-Ski and other resorts in the other districts.
In order to do this, LTDC invited some of the crafts people to a weekend bazaar where they could showcase and sell their products to tourists. The colourful event was held outside the TIC where accompanied by a fanfare of music from the sound system as well as food and refreshments. The organization is hoping to use these month-end events as the start of the project that could turn out to be a weekly affair should the interest build up both from the artists and the visitors alike.
Some of the crafts being exhibited at the stalls included beaded handiwork, traditional craft made out of local material as well as animal skins and horns. Since Butha-Buthe is an area rich in wool and mohair products, the crafters also take advantage of such raw materials to manufacture their goods in addition to the various plants and local clay (letsopa) to manufacture their products.
In order to make the displayed goods more appealing to the international market, Action Lesotho grouped together some new and existing craftspeople from Butha-Buthe to form a cooperative in which they would be trained in how to make better products as well as marketing them in order to get income to sustain their livelihoods.
Senior Tourism Officer at LTDC Molapo Matela said there are many people who are interested in working with the tourism industry so that they can find a market for their products and this is why the LTDC explored such potential and decided to use the TICs around the country as a first stop for promoting local craft industries.
“We have initially started with this monthly craft market in Butha-Buthe that will be held on the last Saturday of every month as a pilot project. We used to have such bazaars in Maseru at the Basotho Hat but that had to stop in 2010 when the venue caught fire. However, we hope that the Butha Buthe model, if successful, could be copied by other districts and spread throughout the country,” said Matela.
He further said LTDC is working with Action Lesotho as development partner in this project and will be eager to work with other partners such as Bedco that promote local businesses. He expressed hope that during the tourism peak period, which is in winter, the crafters will be able to market their products to incoming tourists and the border as well as working with other established tourism resorts in the area and other nearby districts.
He also suggested that locals should also venture into other tourism-related businesses such as offering homestays, pony-trekking and other cultural activities that the visitors will be happy to explore and experience. The district, he said, also offers some spectacular tourist sites such as the famous Butha-Buthe Plateau that has a historical background to it.
Action Lesotho is an Irish development organization that started the arts and crafts development programme in 2012 under a project called Lesotho Mountain Crafts. To date the organisations boasts of 13 member companies representing over 100 employees who earn over M600 per month from their arts and crafts. Some artists are able to generate as much as M3 000 per month.
According to Action Lesotho coordinator, Pippa Kearon, some of the members, who are mostly women, were doing very well as the organization has found market for their products in South Africa, the US and EU, particularly in Germany.
“We train people with existing craft skills and train them to better their income levels by making marketable products. We also help the crafters to market their wares to international standards so that they may be able to live above the poverty datum line. We are currently working in Leribe, Morija and Butha-Buthe districts,” said Kearon.
Innovation and entrepreneurship facilitator at Action Lesotho Dominic Matooane said craftspeople in the three districts are trained in starting their businesses after which they are expected to grow their businesses and link them with the tourism industry.
“The crafters have to know how to market their products. They also need to be aware of their production capacity according to the demand for the products as well as know how to do basic bookkeeping, “said Matooane.
According to him, a lot of artists face problems when it comes to over-pricing and underpricing of their products and this can only be overcome if they are aware of the market trends and pricing of the raw materials as well as the finished goods.