Basket Case

The women of Ngurunit in Kenya have entered the cash economy. They are earning an income of 50,000 Kenyan Shillings (about US$500) from selling traditionally made baskets. It's a veritable fortune in this arid part of northern Kenya where the UN is running a food aid programme. Before they started selling baskets, the women of this pastoralist society comprising Rendille and Samburu tribes were entirely dependent on their livestock. Change came when Laura Lemunyete from Wisconsin in the USA moved to Ngurunit after marrying a Rendille herdsman she had met on a livestock production course. A destitute woman called Gatoyia asked Laura if she could sell her camel milking basket to buy food. Convinced that the attractive baskets could bring much-needed income to the village, Laura turned saleswoman and convinced a number of Nairobi boutiques and curio shops to stock them. The baskets proved popular with tourists, and it wasn't long before orders were placed by importers to the US and Europe. Demand is such that some nearly 200 women in Ngurunit spend every spare moment weaving baskets. Competition in the curio trade is fierce, but Laura feels sure that with better access to markets, the Ngurunit women's baskets will continue to fund lasting improvements to the quality of life of the entire community. Already the basket making has proved a catalyst for other income-generating ventures such as honey, leather and ghee production.

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