Rural Unity for Development Organization: Working with Zimbabwean Artisans to Increase their Economic Security
RUDO CRAFT is the trading arm of the Zimbabwean non-governmental organization Rural Unity for Development Organization, which has worked on a grassroots level in South East Zimbabwe since 1992 with the aim of obtaining food and achieving economic security for its members.
Started as a development project for the rural poor to survive the drought of 1992-94 , RUDO CRAFT basket weavers, stone carvers and potters grew as an organization which produced enough to reach national and overseas markets.
In developing the artisans' ability to trade globally, RUDO's focus has been on strong quality control and product development which is dynamic and up-to-date with international trends. Producers receive Oxfam GB Fair Trade Program's market intelligence and support from international designers who work with them directly to develop new products, resulting in two collections per year. Indigenous Shona tradition and skill inspire each new collection. The 1998/99 "Shumo Collection" originates from the rich oral expression of the Shona forefathers' wisdom.
RUDO markets its basketry, pottery and stone carvings through producer-owned and managed roadside markets, a shop in Masvingo town and a showroom where the local business community places orders. Internationally, RUDO exports to Oxfam Fair Trade Company in the U.K. and Bridgehead in Canada and to the U.S.
One of RUDO's most popular products is a recycled plastic basket from Gutu, in the Masvingo province. Tradition and creativity have found a productive use for the plastic and twine from bags used for packing maize meal, stock-feed, citrus and other foodstuffs.
The women from Gutu, skilled in basketry made from sisal and other natural fibers, unravel the woven plastic bags and twist the threads into a cord, using them for weaving new colorful baskets. Different bags provide different thread colors. White fibers come from maize sacks, fawn from stock-feed, brown from beans, red/orange/yellow from citrus, and black or green from vegetables.
RUDO members employ local marketing staff to support their sales and run export operations. Oxfam G.B. Fair Trade Program and the U.S. Peace Corps are supporting RUDO CRAFT through trade assistance, design consultancies, and business advice. Local environmental organizations are partners in developing reforestation programs and ensuring responsible use of natural resources such as soapstone. Links to the Fair Trade movement in Europe and North America provide artisans with much needed income from export orders and the opportunity to develop small craft enterprises and participate productively in the formal economy.
The photographs on these pages were taken by Melissa DeCino and by Calvin Dondo.