The art of creating baskets: Students and elders engage in competition, conducting brisk business in Enugu

Obollo-Afor, the headquarters of Udenu Local Government Area in Enugu State, is renowned not only for its banana, avocado pears, cashew nuts, and original honey but also for being a significant hub for the production of baskets. These baskets play a crucial role in packaging tomatoes, pepper, okra, and other vegetable produce, which are then transported from the northern part of Nigeria to various regions, particularly the southern states.

It’s interesting to note that these baskets, in high demand in the northern part of the country, are not only manufactured by adults but also by children in primary and secondary schools in Obollo-Afor.

HYPEBLOG9JA MEDIA reported that schoolchildren engaged in basket making primarily aim to earn pocket money. Over time, the high demand for their services has led to them receiving more money than expected, sometimes causing them to be beyond their parents’ control. While it serves as a lucrative business for adults supporting their families, it raises questions about the basket-making process, how students balance it with academics, the sourcing of raw materials, apprenticeship duration, and more.

In Obollo-Afor, there are gatherings or rendezvous where individuals compete to determine the highest quantity and quality of baskets made each day. These rendezvous are named after the villages where they are located. Visiting Ejuona Iheakpu Obollo village, a reporter uncovered the secrets of basket making by these young artisans. For 18-year-old Chukwuebuka Obetta, who recently completed secondary school, basket making provides an opportunity to earn extra money to supplement his pocket money from his parents.

Chukwuebuka shared that he began weaving baskets right after completing primary school around six years ago. His entry into basket weaving involved undergoing several months of training supervised by older family members until he was certified proficient.

Regarding balancing academics and the craft, Chukwuebuka explained that weaving takes place during long vacations, typically from June to August each year. Even during school periods, they weave after school hours, not every day, allowing time for academic commitments.

Chukwuebuka highlighted the fluctuation in basket prices, mentioning that they become scarce and expensive during school periods due to limited weavers. In contrast, holiday periods witness increased production, leading to more affordable prices.

Regarding productivity, he mentioned weaving around 25 baskets a day when energetic but sometimes fewer when energy is limited, averaging around 15 baskets per day.

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Chukwuebuka further detailed the pricing dynamics of the baskets, mentioning that during periods of scarcity, like the school term, they sell one basket for N250. However, during holidays when there is a higher production volume, the price drops to as low as N200.

Buyers actively seek out the weavers at their production points, and Chukwuebuka highlighted that customers directly come to their village to purchase wholesale baskets.

He explained the process of obtaining raw materials, emphasizing that acquiring palm fronds is not a simple task. They allocate certain days to search for palm fronds and utilize the remaining days for weaving. The weavers personally climb palm trees, pruning them to gather sufficient palm fronds. Chukwuebuka noted that this process benefits palm tree owners, as regular pruning enhances nut-bearing and facilitates palm wine tapping.

Regarding earnings during extended holidays lasting two months, Chukwuebuka stated that it varies based on individual capabilities. Some weavers can produce up to 15 baskets a day, while others may manage around 10 or fewer baskets.

Chukwuebuka shared his personal production goals, aiming to weave at least 50 baskets per week, totaling around 200 baskets in a month. During the extended two-month vacation, he targets approximately 400 baskets. Multiplying this by the N200 price per basket during holidays, he anticipates earning about N80,000. However, he acknowledged that those unable to climb palm trees hire others for the task, incurring additional expenses from the N80,000.

He credited his ability to climb palm trees to his late father, a palm wine tapper who taught him to use climbing rope. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Sunday Ugwu, currently in JS 11, was drawn to basket making after observing other children engage in the craft. Climbing palm trees himself, Sunday weaves 12 to 13 baskets daily, accumulating around 80 baskets monthly. He manages his weaving schedule around school hours, typically starting in the afternoon and finishing by 6:30 pm. Sunday allocates the money earned from the business as pocket money and for personal needs, also saving some for the future.

At 25 years old, Ogbu Christian is a secondary school dropout who halted his education in JSS3 due to a lack of sponsorship. Utilizing the income from basket weaving, he addresses various challenges. Unable to climb palm trees himself, Ogbu hires skilled climbers to gather the necessary raw materials. Despite attempting to climb palm trees, he found it challenging and opted to pay experts for the task. Ogbu’s weekly output reaches up to 25 baskets, totaling 100 in a month.

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Supporting the accounts of others in terms of weaving schedules and marketing, Ogbu revealed that weaving activities commence at 6:00 am and conclude around 6:00 pm or 6:30 pm. Buyers visit their center, known as Ejuona Iheakpu, to purchase the finished baskets. Ogbu allocates the earnings from the business to fund his welding apprenticeship. Engaging in the trade for over seven years, he initially crafted baskets for packaging palm nuts before transitioning to the type used for tomatoes, Okra, and various fruits.

Francis Anaedozie, the Chairman of the Basket Dealers’ Association in Obollo-Afor, shared insights with HYPEBLOG9JA MEDIA. He explained their process of collecting large quantities of baskets from various villages and hamlets in and around Obollo-Afor. Once gathered, these baskets are transported to the northern part of the country, where they are utilized for packaging tomatoes, Okra, pepper, and other vegetable products, ultimately destined for the southern part of the country.

Anaedozie detailed the sourcing of products and their marketing strategies. Baskets are acquired from school children who weave them and from villages and hamlets where production centers are located. The association transports these baskets to high-demand areas in the northern region, including Gombe, Jos, Zaria, Kaduna, Kano, Benue states, and Ogbomosho in Osun State. The baskets serve as carriers for tomatoes, Okra, pepper, among other products.

Regarding pricing, Anaedozie mentioned the variations based on demand and location. During scarcity periods, they purchase baskets from children at N250 each, and during times of abundance, the rate is N200. The selling price is influenced by the destination, considering factors like transportation costs. For example, in Benue State, they sell at N350 each after factoring in transportation costs, with varying rates for different locations such as Kano, Gombe, or Jos.

He emphasized the seasonality of the business, with peak demand occurring between June and September, aligning with the tomato Gboko season. Despite the seasonal nature, the association remains prepared to supply baskets at any time, adjusting the frequency of loading based on customer volume and demand. Some members may load three times a month, while others load four times, responding dynamically to market needs.

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While basket weaving contributes to the livelihoods of many families in Obollo and its surroundings, some parents express concerns about its negative impact on their children. Mr. Francis Eze, who operates a restaurant, shared an incident where he intervened when his son, still in SS1 at the time, seemed to lose control due to the substantial earnings from basket weaving. Eze gave his son an ultimatum, asking him to choose between continuing with basket weaving or pursuing his education, threatening to stop paying school fees if he persisted.

Another individual at the bar corroborated this narrative, recounting how his academically talented son, despite the financial gains from basket weaving, opted not to pursue university education. This trend raises concerns among parents about the potential detrimental effects on their children.

Despite these challenges, Chukwuebuka, a young basket weaver, offers advice to youths engaged in criminal activities, emphasizing the importance of dedication to any endeavor, no matter how humble. He suggests that engaging in productive ventures like basket weaving, despite its challenges, is a more constructive path than resorting to criminal activities. Chukwuebuka highlights the value of hard work in providing for oneself and meeting personal and familial needs.

Uchenna Godwin, a civil servant and native of Obollo-Afor, emphasized the historical significance of basket making in the region, describing it as the primary economic activity for young people. He noted that it begins as a means of earning pocket money but evolves into a substantial economic venture, enabling individuals to support their families and even fund their children’s education.

Godwin shared examples of individuals who started with basket weaving and progressed to organizing and transporting the products to the northern part of the country. Some have expanded their enterprises to become full-time transporters, employing numerous people directly and indirectly. He highlighted the positive impact of basket making, citing cases of those displaced by Boko Haram in the north who returned home and found solace in this trade.

Characterizing basket making as a highly positive venture contributing significantly to the community’s development, Godwin urged government support. He called for encouragement of weavers and environmental awareness, emphasizing the importance of preserving palm trees by climbing and pruning them for raw materials. Godwin believes this approach not only sustains the basket-making industry but also contributes to palm wine tapping, another vital income source for villagers.

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