E-commerce portal launched at arts and crafts expo

Some of the crafts that were showcased at the expo. PHOTO/PROMISE TWINAMUKYE

What you need to know:

A vendor can post their catalogue of products on the portal, indicate prices, add description to the product and the story behind every products. Before the products are uploaded, they must meet the quality assurance framework.

On April 7, the National Arts and Cultural Crafts Association of Uganda and Uganda Tourism Association in partnership with MasterCard Foundation, PSFU, under the Covid-19 Economic Recovery And Resilience Response Programme (CERRRP), launched both the e-commerce portal for art and cultural crafts and the first art and cultural expo.

During the five-day exhibition, the Minister of State for Tourism, Martin Mugarra Bahinduka, launched the associations’ first ever e-commerce portal to ease the selling of their art and craft to counter the changing face of markets due to Covid-19 pandemic.

The expo brought forth exhibitors from all regions in the country, all showcasing the mastery of their work and demonstrating how these crafts are made.

The changing face of tourism

According to Francis Kisirinya, the chief membership officer at the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), being at the expo and showcasing the nation’s art and craft for the first time is like showing Uganda and the world what she has and is capable of doing.

The sector, Sikirinya says, is also patronised by more young women than any other sectors in Uganda, which is why many people got hit badly when the country was hit by Covid-19 that saw the closure of almost everything, including the economy.

PSFU, in partnership with MasterCard foundation realised that bringing the sector back can potentially have a positive impact on the livelihoods of many people.

Through the economic relief resilience response programme, in which PSFU partnered with Mastercard Foundation, they identified and generated programmes geared towards reviving tourism to its former glory.

“Through this programme, we are training members of NACCAU with craftsman skills and quality standards production of art and craft. We have also extended financial resources in order to bring common user facilities such as machines for sandal and timber production,  among others. This is aimed at improving our quality and the quantity of our products,” Sikirinya explains.

He says the exhibition is one of the responses to support the sector through showcasing and creating awareness on the cultural crafts to boost economic recovery.

Covid-19 has not only changed the livelihood of people but also changed the shopping experience. Some people may never go back to the different shops they used to go to physically get items and it is high time the sellers searched for buyers in spaces where they find comfort.

With the improvement in technology, this could not be any easier. “Today, we are launching an e-commerce portal, which has been developed to allow craft sellers to avail their products online to increase their market so that even those people who do not go to the shops can still access these products,” he says.

Sikirinya adds that the portal allows sellers of given products to add a story on their products so that the buyers get to know more about the product and the story that surrounds them.

Why the expo?

Aside from the expo availing so many products to revellers in the same space, it was also an opportunity for different exhibitors to sell their stories and create markets from different regions than their own.

According to Bruno Sserunkuuma, a member of NACCAU specialising in ceramic pottery, who also doubles as a lecturer at Makerere University, events such as the expo promote art products to both the domestic and foreign buyers and tourists.

“This is an avenue for Ugandans to build and appreciate products made by their countrymen. This work has been made by our own people. Products from different sectors in this expo are proving a benchmark upon which many of us can assess the quality of our work and identify areas that need improvement in the chain of production,” Sserunkuuma adds.

He makes functional and decorative ceramics that can be used at home such bowls, jugs, vases and mugs, among others. He makes the ceramics from clay, a raw material readily available on the market.

“As I pursued science subjects back in High School, I was fascinated by the science around making ceramics products. Many people use plastics in developing countries, which are dangerous for human use. Using ceramics would go a long way in averting this and this is why I choose the path of ceramics,” he says. Sserunkuuma writes personalised messages on his work so one can get a customised pot or mug for any occasion or belief.

Udota Olum Alwala, the chairperson of Pacer Blacksmithing, Wood art and Craft Association, says the expo is a great way of growing their brand and also getting more value from their handiwork.

Apart from iron work, the association has a number of people who craft different things out of wood including pens, turtles, the Crested Crane, (wild and domestic animals and birds), musical instruments among others.

They too demonstrated at the expo by curving the Crane, turtle among other crafts. “Our crafts are made by our clan members, who learn the craft from our grandparents. We started with blacksmithing and later extended to crafting things out of wood,” Alwala says. The group is composed of the youth out of school, orphans and persons with disability and this is an avenue through which they earn a living. They are trained and after learning, the products produced are taken to the market for sale.

“For many of us, this is our job. It is from these crafts that we make money for school fees and other basic items. This helps women not rely on their husbands for everything,” he adds.

In 2012, the association started out with 30 people; 13 men and 17 women. They later combined with other two groups to focus on art and crafts and agriculture as well as build the membership of the association. Alwala says they are 150 members.

The president of Uganda Tourism Association, Herbert Byaruhanga, lauded the Tourism minister for creating an enabling environment for the tourism sector to flourish.

As art and cultural craft goes online, the sector expects to have products that meet required standards on the market.  This is why Ministry of Tourism, Uganda National Bureau of Standards and other entities are working to make this a reality. 

Martin Mugarra Bahinduka, the Minister of State forTourism, receives a gift from one of the exhibitors. PHOTO/ PROMISE TWINAMUKYE

“Skilling people is a matter of priority. We need to skill our people to recover from the blow the pandemic,” Byaruhanga says.

The plight of NACCAU

Since its inception in 1994, under Uganda National Arts and Crafts Association at the National Theatre grounds, NACCAU has awaited the day it would organise an expo to bring together different creative artists, according to Nuwa Wamala Nyanzi.

That happening this year is a dream come true for the organisation. Renting space from Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC) on which they constructed semi-permanent structures to operate their businesses in 42 shops, a workshop and canteen space, majority of people selling crafts are young women.

Their businesses were wiped out, with most of their clients unable to move between countries and regions. Nyanzi, on behalf of NACCAU, appealed for a stimulus package of at least Shs500m to support their recovery process. According to Nyanzi, this amount will cover ground rent arrears the organisation owes to Uganda National Cultural Centre since March 2021 to date amounting to Shs300m

 “As a result, little is left for ploughing back into the businesses hence hampering our growth and development,” Nyanzi says. Mugarra pledged to support NACCAU in its undertakings but also urged producers to invest in marketing their products for both local and foreign markets.

 “As a ministry, we shall source for more funding from government and development partners. There is a huge untapped market potential locally which calls for creativity in the way we market these products,” Mugarra says.

 How the portal works

To sell on the e-commercial portal, craft retailers are onboarded by the portal admins on www. admin.craftshop.ug. A vendor can post their catalogue of products on the portal clearly indicating their prices, description and preferably, the story of the products.

The products are subjected to quality assurance framework, which confirms from the retailer about the consistency and size of the product. The product has to have standard quality pictures and a reserved price.According to Richard Kawere, the chief executive officer of UTA, these producers undergo training before their products go online.

So far 60 vendors have undergone training. The training and selling the products on the portal are currently free for a year. At a later stage, a small fee to sustain the service will be levied.  Buyers can browse the available products, buy and add them to the cart on www.craftshop.ug.

The buyer will then be taken through a process to know the product will be delivered to where they are. “We are finalising the payment platform that has Visa card, master card, because one of the interests for this portal is for Ugandan crafts to access the international market as well,” he adds.

“We have also finished integrating with DHL as one of our international couriers around the world at the moment,” Kawere says.

Unlike the physical market, retailers will sell to people out of Uganda and delivery will be done through DHL,” Nyanzi says.