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Extreme Poverty And Unemployment In The African Continent

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This research work deals with the sustainable value-addition and marketing of hand-woven cotton, sisal and banana fibre products, with an aim of enhancing adoption by end-users. It is hoped that better quality products will attract better prices and hence improve the profitability of the hand woven products in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. The researchers in this project are drawn from the four countries, with five of them being male and seven being female, hence gender inclusion is taken care off. Four of the researchers are drawn from the Universities, in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, bring in skills ranging from textile, mechanical and fashion design. The researchers from the research institution have been selected to allow for design aspects. The industries selected will be key in the project, by providing training people and benefiting from the products and machines to be designed. The input of the industries will be crucial in the optimization of the design machines and products. The project will cover characterization of the type of yarns used by the hand weavers, the type of products and machine commonly used by the hand weavers will also be characterized. Since sources of yarn has been reported as one of the key problems in the hand weaving industry, the type of yarn being produced in the region will also be determined. Fiber hand spinning machine will be designed to provide a machine for yarn production. Hank dyeing machine will also be designed to provide a locally manufactured machine for yarn dyeing. This will go a long way to eradicate color fastness problem reported in the hand woven products. To further improve the hand woven products, skills training will be provided for 80 youths and 20 hand weaving operators. Product modification will also be done using the state of the art 3D printing method and the compression molding technique. It is hoped that innovative products will be designed and registered as intellectual property or utility models. Final this research work will also work on the marketing of the hand woven products, following the global best practices of using e-business.

African countries have made plans to move from agricultural based economies to knowledge based, economies which utilize technology to generate wealth in a sustainable manner. The East Africa region has not been left behind in this quest for economic empowerment. Rwanda is working on its vision 2050, Kenya is using vision, 2030, Tanzania vision 2025 and Uganda vision 2040. By and large the East African countries aim at generating wealth in a sustainable manner, and value addition to products made from natural fibers could be one of the methods. Manufacturing of products made from sisal, banana and cotton fibers, using hand weaving methods could help employ the marginalized people in the rural areas.

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The four East African countries mentioned above have a population of over 160 million and has great potential for economic growth since, most of the population can be classified as youth. The countries are also characterized by high poverty levels, with peasant farming contribution a high percent of its GDP. The agricultural based economies are characterized by the growing of crops and selling most of the farm products without much value addition. This is the case of good quality cotton and sisal grown in the region. Uganda and Tanzania exports over 90% of the cotton it grows and then imports cotton fabrics and other textile products. The same can be said of sisal. Over 95% of the sisal grown in Kenya and Tanzania is exported. Looking at Africa as a whole, for a long time the African economies have processed less that 15% of the cotton it grows. This situation needs to be reversed since Africa has a large pool of unemployed youth who are jobless and could work in fiber processing factories, to produce value added products which can be sold in the local and export markets. The need to process the natural fibers grown in African cannot be overemphasized. It should also be noted that African has a rich heritage of Textiles and natural flora.

The processing of the natural fibers can be done in a variety of ways which include, large scale factories, medium scale factories and cottage industries. The cottage industries can process fibers like cotton, sisal and banana, to produce fibers, yarns, fabrics and many other items. Products from the cottage industry, have unique end uses, since they are regarded as eco-firendly, and tend to address some of the Strategic development Goals (STG) of poverty eradication, economic use of energy, and sustainability. Gender and inclusivity issues are also well taken care of since the industry has a record of being located in the rural areas, and employers over 60% females in some regions in Asia.

The development of the textile cottage industry in East Africa, has received support from the International trade center (ITC) and has given several policy guidelines, which have listed the handloom industry as one of the priority subsector to be developed (URT, 2016; Mwasiagi and Averbeck, 2016). This could be due the a clear realization that as s the East African countries work towards industrialization, the revival of the textile industry will not be complete without the revival of the handloom sector. In India, where the handloom sector had shown signs of negative growth, there is a new push, when the hand loom sector is now being priorities by the central and local governments. In East African handloom industry is expected to provide clothing and accessories for the local community. In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the handloom industry is also earmarked as one of the foreign exchange earner.

While the textile industry in East Africa, is not doing well, there are efforts to revive it, with the governments in the region, trying to revival collapsed textile companies and encourage the setting up in new companies. Looking at the current state of the handloom industry, reports (Mwasiagi and Masambu, 2017), the industry can produce a variety of products, for local and export markets, but has issues, with acquisition of raw material (yarn), product quality and marketing. For example Kenya, can export hand woven products to the United States, under the African growth opportunity Act (AGOA), but this opportunity, lies unutilized due to quality, quantity and marketing issues. Considering the acquisition of yarn, the hand loom weavers need yarn in small quantities, which the yarn manufacturers cannot supply since it is uneconomic to produce. In India, there are legislations to compel all yarn manufacturing to produce some percentage of yarn for the hand loom sector. This has ensured steady supply for the hand loom sector in the region (India). Therefore, a need to re-look at the cotton yarn manufacturing, production of the hand woven goods and the marketing of the goods to ready available markets like AGOA need to be undertaken. This can be extended to other natural fibers in the region, which include sisal and banana. It is hoped that value addition of the products made from the natural fibers grown in the region will go a long way to improve the livelihood of the youth and marginalized people in East Africa.

Extreme poverty and unemployment is a time ticking bomb in the African continent. The problem is further compounded by the fact that most of the African population is characterized by a high percentage of youth. Idle youth can be an asset or a danger. If well utilized the youth can be the engine that will industrialize the region. If left under-utilized the youth are likely to be involved in adverse economic activities, which include crime, drug abuse and terrorism. African has another unique feature, which include African textile heritage and availability of natural resources (indigenous and commercial crops). The East African region can utilize its commercial crops (like cotton and sisal) and natural dyes (extracted from plants) to manufacture hand woven textile products. Currently the East African region exports over 90% of the cotton and sisal fibers it produces. The utilization of plants for dyeing of textiles is also on a very low scale.

The production of hand woven products from natural fibers, was expected to pick up with the introduction of the African Growth opportunity Act (AGOA), which provided quota and tax free market in the Northern African countries. Other global changes which include the push for green production, poverty reduction strategies, inclusivity and sustainable use of energy emerged as further catalyst for the use of natural fibers to produce hand woven products. While countries like India and Bangladesh have take full advantage of the global changes, the production of hand woven products in the East African region as not followed suit. The hand weaving companies have problems, with sourcing of raw materials, quality and marketing of the product. While there is no one single solution to the woes bedeviling the production of hand woven products in the East African region, there is need to consider, sustainable methods for:

  1. Fiber production and procurement
  2. Skills improvement
  3. Machinery acquisition
  4. Product marketing and
  5. Product improvement.

The aforementioned issues form the research problem for this research work. The production of hand woven products using natural fibers has not been sustainable, hence all efforts undertaken since independence are to yield expected results. Problems of the hand weavers being unable to buy yarn from the yarn production companies, poor skills among the hand weavers, poor utilization of machinery, lack of product marketing and improvement strategies needs urgent attention.

The East African countries need to strategies so as to ensure it is not left behind by the rest of the world with respect to Strategic Development Goals (STG), which include eradication of poverty, gender parity, inclusivity and industrialization. This research work aims at adding value to products made using natural fibers. The fibers considered in this research work are sisal, cotton and banana, which are popular crops in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Cotton and sisal are commonly grown in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda as cash crops. Banana is grown for food in all the four countries. The exportation of sisal and cotton as fiber, without value addition, should not be allowed to continue, since the region has many of its citizens who live below the poverty level. The utilization of the banana fiber will be an additional income since banana is grown as a food crop.

Value addition to the fibers produced locally will improve the economic levels of the people in the region. Value addition of textile fibers is also important in that it can be used to provide employment for the marginalized youth and rural people in the East African region. As the region aims to move from agricultural to knowledge based economy that uses technology in a sustainable manner, this research will provide an opportunity for the researchers from industry and companies to interact and work together towards sustainable solutions of value addition. While poverty levels are a threat to national cohesion in the region, opportunities to provide gainful employment need to be sought. In this research work, the training of the hand loom weavers, is expected to re-tool the weavers with modern technology in hand loom weaving and hence enable them to produce high quality products which can be sold in local and international markets. The study of fabrication of selected machines (hand spinning and hank dyeing) is expected to provide an avenue for the local production of the machine, hence spurring further economic growth and position the region as a technology leader in the area of innovation. The introduction of the use of e-business is expected to propel the hand loom sector to the current global trends of marketing and selling of goods. Surface modification using 3D printing uses the latest technology to add value to hand woven products. It is expected that a thriving hand weaving industry in the region will provide a value chain that will provide gainful employment.

The conceptual framework for sustainable value-addition of natural fibers incorporates production and marketing is given in Fig. 1. The production entails a study of the raw materials’ sourcing and extraction, worker skills in which the weavers will be trained on spinning, weaving and wet processing. The production also encompasses the design and testing of machinery specifically hand spinning and hank dyeing. Consequently, the products will have superior attributes: aesthetics, functionality, form and affordable. After production the hand-woven products will be marketed through the social media and e-commerce occasioning adoption by a large segment of the population of diverse socio-economic status.

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