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new project shows that fair trade can succeed between developing
countries, writes Monako Dibetle
When human rights
advocate Greg Moran opened the African Toyshop earlier this year,
his aim was clear: to use the principles of fair trade to help African
crafters make a decent living through their skills. Six months on
and he is satisfied that the project is bearing the kinds of fruits
he had in mind.
devised the idea for the project on a trip to Malawi, where he encountered
craftsmen creating exquisite toys under a tree at the side of the
road. Driven by hunger and desperation, these artists would often
sell their wares to tourists at a fraction of their real value.
He entered into an agreement with Malawian crafter Lekemu Seleman,
ordered a batch of toys to sell in Johannesburg and paid him a deposit
of 50%, with the balance to follow on delivery.
situated in Johannesburg’s trendy 44 Stanley Avenue, now sources
toys from countries as diverse as Uganda, the Democratic Republic
of Congo, Zambia and Mozambique.
It is firmly
rooted in the principles of fair trade, which include paying suppliers
a fair price; giving suppliers 50% when an order is placed, and
50% on delivery; encouraging crafters to form co-operatives in order
to spread wealth within the community; and creating products in
a manner that ensures environmental sustainability, such as planting
The toys, many
of which are more like works of art, reflect not just the culture
but also the natural environment in which they are produced, depending
on the availability of raw materials.
are made mostly of wood or wicker, a reed-like material that grows
in Lake Malawi, and portray high-tech subjects such as the international
road freight trucks that pass through their villages, or the sophisticated
backhoes and graders used to build roads.
the DRC show the influence of Belgian colonialism, with Tintin-like
characters piloting shark-submarines and seaplanes made out of recycled
create a delightful tableau of ordinary life, from fish markets
to adult education classes and river crossings. The level of detail
is exceptional, with each element individually crafted, down to
tiny pieces of fruit and miniature woven baskets. Moran says African
toys are distinguished from mass-produced toys by their close attention
to detail, a non-formulaic approach, "an element of humour
and honesty and the intelligent use of resources".
While the fair
trade movement has traditionally been used to help producers in
developing countries receive a fair share of the revenue from the
sale of their products in developed countries, this project proves
the value of mutually beneficial relationships between producers
and consumers in different parts of Africa.
For Moran, these
benefits are no more clearly illustrated than in the impact the
partnership has had on the life of Seleman. On a recent visit to
Malawi, Moran was thrilled to find that Seleman has used his earnings
from the toyshop orders to build a larger brick house for himself
and his family.
Malawi with a profound sense of accomplishment," said Moran.
Through applying principles of fair trade, the shop – tiny as it
is – has allowed a man to build a proper house for his family."
Seleman now has so much work that he has had to hire an assistant.
"As their enterprise grows, the need for additional help increases.
cope on a ‘one man’ basis anymore, Moran explains.
The ethos behind
the African Toyshop is one of encouraging consumers to see themselves
as rooted in the continent, and to appreciate its ingenuity and
many positive aspects, instead of the negativity, tragedy and drama
with which Africa is often portrayed. At the back of the shop is
a huge wooden map, which allows children to locate the country in
which each toy was produced. The toys all have tags, which include
information on where they are from and some facts about the country
toyshop has entered into a partnership with publishing company Macmillan
to carry a range of books, which will encourage children to learn
and understand more about the continent.
Moran also has
plans to expose African toy makers to a broader public and to ensure
they are able to make a living and, hopefully, prosper.
us to open up an outlet in London and Paris, not just to expose
these toys and their producers to a European market, but also for
Africans living in those countries."
reporting by Nicola Lazenby
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