The East African economy is rooted in agriculture. However, the majority of people depend on subsistence agriculture based on minimal use of off-farm inputs.
Although well-managed subsistence agriculture is sustainable in the long term, it has kept East African economies small and insular in comparison to huge economies like China’s that benefit from highly industrialized production.
The good news for Uganda and other East African nations is that the region’s infrastructure has been rapidly changing over the past few years to make room for economic growth. In fact, Uganda’s economy is one of the fasting growing of all the nations on the continent.
However, improvements at the community and household levels are still very gradual. Poverty levels remain high. Inadequate health care and the HIV epidemic persist. The majority of rural families still struggle daily. Yet they have plenty of organic raw materials that they could harness to produce high quality products that are sellable outside of their communities.
That is where Harkiss Designs comes in, working at the grassroots level to help provide sustainable jobs in East Africa. The community handcraft workshops producing our items are tiny in comparison to the huge, mechanized factories of China, but the value they bring is incredibly important to both East African communities and consumers throughout the world.
Two essential differences between the small, community-centered workshops of Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and the big factories of industrialized nations like China is their approach to production. In East Africa, highly skilled artisans handcraft each product individually, from start to finish, with care. Also, they use natural or organic raw materials, many of which are by-products of their subsistence farming. In contrast, in a Chinese electronics factory, workers must focus on one tedious task in the production process for hours on end, moreover using artificial raw materials that leave a large carbon footprint.
Read Part Two, coming soon.