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Baraka Buys Bolga Baskets

[POSTED ON: 13th May 2014]

In about 2010 we were approached by a wonderful local business, The Community Farm Store to supply them with Bolga Baskets from Ghana. They were already a Shea Butter client and great friends, and we were already importing Shea Butter from northern Ghana so it all made sense.

Little did we know the learning and adventure that it would take us on!! But, looking back it was so worth it, and we are so excited with the container load of beautiful baskets that just arrived, and the incredible women that make the baskets.

Little did we know the learning and adventure that it would take us on!! But, looking back it was so worth it, and we are so excited with the container load of beautiful baskets that just arrived, and the incredible women that make the baskets.

We sourced our original order from a Ghana organization that was already working with a number of basket making groups and supporting their training. The baskets were great and the Community Farm Store, Island Natural Markets and other customers loved them. When we went to re-order we found that the organization we had bought them through wasn’t really in the same business any longer.

This was actually great. It gave us a chance to work more directly with the women and communities.

Through some of my work with the University for Development Studies in northern Ghana I had met Alfred Akolgo, a young man from Bolgatanga who grew up in and around basket making and had a Masters in Development from UDS.

In May of 2013 I commissioned him to help us organize to work directly with the women’s groups to procure the baskets.

In September 2013 all was in place and I was in Bolgatanga with Alfred making my first visits to our new community groups and all excited about being able to work directly with the communities and, in the future, organizing to help support their development priorities.

Naive as I was, I was planning that we would have baskets made, shipped and on store shelves for Christmas. The adventure of getting the baskets to Canada and ready to share with all of you was…, well, let’s say it was interesting.

Sort of like life, full of unexpected events, some of them almost catastrophic. Fortunately for me I had great people to work with all the way through it and we now have the baskets here and ready for you! And I’m (I hope!) much smarter about how to do this next time.

Below you can read about the adventure of getting the baskets…
1) May 2013 – recruited Alfred Akolgo from Bolgatanga who I met through the University for Development Studies, where he was doing a Masters in Development. He did some preliminary research and relationship building to get us set up to procure baskets directly.
2) Sept 2013 – Alfred started on procurement. He had a local man, Paul, an old friend, who had years of relationships and experience with local basket making groups. The baskets are made by women, working in groups, in remote rural villages outside of Bolgatanga. Bolgatanga is referred to as Bolga in Ghana and that is why they are called Bolga Baskets.
3) I got to make my first visit to the communities that were making the baskets for us and to meet the women and their families. You can see photos from the visit here.
4) The order was promised for late October so it could be to Canada for the end of the Christmas selling season (yeah Right!).
5) October – various delays, hiccups, complications. Nothing too major. Started to look like we won’t make Christmas season.
6) November – more delays with some groups. Switched orders to other groups, changed numbers of some baskets, all in an attempt to finally get the production finished and shipped and to do it in a way that was supportive of all the women and groups we started to work with.
7) Late November – Paul suddenly got sick and died. Terrible tragedy. Fortunately there were no children. We helped with the funeral and things but it was traumatic for all.
8)Delays in final production and bagging meant we missed the last pre-Christmas boat to ship.
9)Early January – a miscommunication in booking a vessel meant our shipping was delayed a couple more weeks before it could leave Ghana.
10)February – Our container transited through Europe and for some reason there was a delay on that part and it sat in Europe for a few weeks.
11)March – our container was approaching Vancouver Port but turned back because of strike in the Vancouver Port. For a while we thought we might have to receive it in Seattle and then get it up to the Island, which would have meant an extra Customs Clearance, transportation and other costs.
12) April – finally the container lands in Vancouver. Customs decides that they want to inspect it. Full inspection. Not a big deal other than COST! Their decision meant that we had to pay to have it hauled to a warehouse, pay high rates to have the full 40 foot container unloaded and inspected and then reloaded and hauled away.
13) Disaster struck – after they got the container unloaded we got notice that the container was not safe to put the baskets and Shea Butter back into! They decided that it would be trucked to us and we would have to pay for disposal of the damaged container!! YIKES – and we had no storage for the baskets and Shea butter at our facility as we were counting on using the container!
14) Our Customs Broker said in 20 years she had never seen anything like this. After a couple of days of trying to figure a way out from this mess the trucking company that our Customs Broker found came up with a plan. Imex, and Jase Marshall were amazing in helping to manage a way through the process. But, it wasn’t easy (or cheap!).
15) This meant hauling the freight, which was on the floor in the inspection warehouse and we were being charged a lot for daily storage, over to their warehouse and then getting the damaged container there so their mechanic could inspect it to see if it could be repaired (union/non union issues prevented their mechanic from coming to look at it in the inspection warehouse!).
16) Moving the container to the trucking company was interesting. It was on a trailer but somehow they couldn’t take that trailer directly to their shop so they had to make arrangements for another firm to haul the trailer to a ‘neutral’ area and have it transferred to their trailer. Of course, the timing didn’t get coordinated so we had to pay a few hours for one of the trucks and trailers to sit and wait.
17) The trucking company’s mechanic inspected the container and found the bottom beam was broken right out. They thought the container had been dropped on something from some height. Fortunately they were able to fix it so they could reload the baskets and Shea butter in it, of course, that wasn’t so cheap either.

But, all that is now behind us, and we have a 40 foot container full of beautiful Bolga Baskets to share with friends, customers and anyone who wants them.

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