Trade in woodcrafts in the Hazyview area, Mupumalanga Province as a source of income for informal traders.
The study examines the woodcraft trade in the Hazyview area through the application of the value chain methodology as adapted from the works of writers such as Kaplinsky and Morris (2001), McCormick and Schmitz (2002) and Sturgeon (2001). Several methods of collecting data were employed (triangulation): value chain analysis, interviews, observation and focus group discussions. The findings reveal that the woodcraft value chain comprises several actors: the informal craft workers, assistant craft workers, retailers and consumers of crafts, located at the various levels of the chain. The informal craft workers, who are the main focus of this study, are mostly involved in the production and selling level of the value chain, while the formal traders (e.g. craft retailers, wholesalers, curio shop owners) are involved in selling, marketing and branding of the crafts. Although craft workers also sell and 'market' their crafts by the roadside, the findings show that these activities do not yield substantial profit for them, as they lack the necessary rents to make a sustainable income out of crafts. The lack of innovation (introduction of new products), product diversification, access to new markets, and other factors that characterize the informal wood craft trade have implications in terms of competitiveness and the sustainability of the woodcraft trade as a source of income of the informal traders. The findings show that the challenges facing the informal woodcraft traders are also aggravated by high levels of competition that has emerged in recent years due to globalization and democratization, which have seen the opening of South African borders to craft workers from other parts of the world, especially Africa. Of importance though is the fact that the informal traders lack crucial rents that are essential for them to remain competitive. These rents include: resource, marketing, infrastructure, financial and policy rents. The findings show that, unless traders acquire these rents their trade remains uncompetitive and unsustainable. There are also economic and environmental implications emanating from the findings as the analysis shows that wood for carving is no longer a free natural resource as it used to be in the past years, but a scarce economic resource. The analysis further shows that the problems that traders experience are both endogenous and exogenous in nature. It is clear that traders need to deal with endogenous issues such as innovation, upgrading of the value chains, diversification and other internal issues and processes. With the necessary support, traders could deal with these problems. Policy would, however, need to address exogenous issues such as controlling the flooding of the SA craft market with cheap crafts, mostly from the neighbouring states and other countries in Africa (not excluding countries outside the continent of Africa). Creating an 'enabling environment' for the woodcraft trade is important e.g. Financial, logistic, capital and other support measures. Indeed, what has emerged in the analysis of this study is that people's livelihoods (under the current and prevailing conditions) are under threat. In the context of poverty and high unemployment levels, something would have to be done to deal with the crisis facing the informal traders. This study concludes by making the necessary recommendations on what could be done to redress the situation.