The traditional broom trade in Bushbuckridge, South Africa: helping poor women cope with adversity

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The extensive local and regional market for traditional, handcrafted twig and grass brooms in the Bushbuckridge municipality, South Africa, provides an important means of livelihood security for several hundred poor households in the face of increasing economic hardship. Participants in this trade were a vulnerable group of middle-aged to elderly women with poor levels of education and few assets. Over half headed their own house-holds, and several came from households affected by AIDS. Entry into the broom trade was mainly a coping strategy in response to crisis, becoming long-term in the absence of alternatives. Average net annual incomes for producers and traders were modest at ZAR 2,000 and ZAR 1,000 respectively (ZAR=South African Rand), although some were earning considerably more. While unlikely to provide a way out of poverty, the trade was critical in allowing diversification and in providing a safety net, assisting poor households to overcome adversity, meet several basic needs, and educate their children.

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