|GATE - 1986/2 - Rural Crafts (GTZ GATE, 1986, 56 p.)|
Assistance to Blacksmiths in The Gambia
by Christian Lempelius
In The Gambia as throughout West Africa, blacksmiths constitute a cast, - an endogamous social group of different ethnic backgrounds but independent and more or less international in character. A blacksmith is at home wherever he goes. The blacksmith group still plays a very important role in the social and religious organization of the various ethnic groups. In this report, however, we are neither concerned with the symbolism and myth of the blacksmith's trade nor with the blacksmith's role in initiation rituals: features which distinguished him from other categories of workers in West Africa.
Today blacksmiths have an important new role as agents of technical innovation in rural areas. They repair modern agricultural tools and equipment, household utensils and donkey carts, and thus the villagers have an opportunity to observe and learn about this new sphere of work. Due to their abilities, government assistance with agricultural equipment in West Africa is gradually changing the character of their work. They are increasingly fulfilling the function of a rural technician, the trades of a blacksmith, plumber and mechanic. In addition to the work of a smith, such as making plough discs, sickles, hoes, axes, rakes, knives, and hinges, they are now involved in the production and repair of ploughs, seeders, donkey carts, cooking pots, water bowls, pails and watering cans as well as a variety of aluminium household utensils. A rural blacksmith in The Gambia today can manufacture between 30 and 50 different items and is able to repair almost all metal products that are used in rural areas. The smith uses a very limited number of tools for this work: anvil and forge, a variety of hammers, chisels and tongs as well as »modern« tools: screwdriver, spanners, hacksaw, file, hand drill and vice.
In The Gambia, due to the social character of their work, there is at least one smith in almost every village. In the main trading and administrative centres which have electricity, there is great deal of competition, particularly in the car repair business. The smiths, as an endogamous group, are beginning to penetrate other professions in the modern sector (crane-driver, fitter, office-worker, teacher). This is due to their skills, their great mobility and the technical knowledge that they have acquired over the generations. In the urban sphere, the majority of smiths are gradually losing their social and religious function. Two aspects of the profession, however, seem to be unchangeable: only smiths can perform the initiation ceremonies and nobody can practice the trade without belonging to this cast or social group.
Government assistance to the smiths
At the end of 1979, the Gambian government starlet to provide six month courses of further training for the smiths. The courses were organized by the Rural Vocational Training Programme (RVTP) in Mansakonko with two Gambian staff and a British VSO smith. Eight smiths were initially selected by means of practial tests. Of this group, four smiths qualified as instructors by the end of the course and were then able to train young smiths in the Mixed Farming Centres. In a second phase of the programme, twelve smiths received further/raining, and small practice workshops were built at two Mixed Farming Centres.
In 1983 and 1984, six smiths were again introduced to modern smithery and metal work and ten young smiths received a basic training in the Mixed Farming Centres from those who had already qualified as instructors. Between 1979 and the end of 1984, this training programme involved about forty smiths in the administrative area of central Gambia. The originally planned follow-up programme did not take place due to the economic difficulties of the country. The efforts of the RVTP to equip workshops or acquire materials on a credit basis from the state advisory service for small industries (Indigenous Business Advisory Services- IBAS) met with no success. A few smiths managed, with the help of Oxfam, to get hold of some tools. Some moved to the periphery of Banjul to look for work but the majority returned to their traditional work place, in the shade of a tree. At the moment, the EEC is supporting the construction of 21 small Rural Vocational Training Centres, (building materials, equipment) which are spread throughout The Gambia. Here, smiths, carpenters and rural technicians can be trained. No direct assistance to the craftsmen is envisaged for the period after completion of their formal training.
Assistance to individual workshops
This was the situation that confronted the Gambia Freedom From Hunger Campaign (FFHC)/Women's Agricultural Programme (WAP) as plans for a gradual mechanization of rice-cultivation got under way. In The Gambia, women are mainly responsible for rice-cultivation.
Eight smiths were selected for further training aimed at maintaining, repairing and partially producing the equipment used in the FFHC rice cultivation areas in central Gambia (swamp and upland rice). They were equipped on a credit basis with the most essential tools for metal work. As the smiths had, up to this point, worked under a tree or a low sun shelter, the construction of simple workshops was also integrated into the assistance programme. Two of the smiths selected had already taken part in the Government further training scheme. The first phase of the FFHC Blacksmith Programme lasted a year and was divided into the following phases:
1. Survey of smiths
Within a period of a few weeks, most of the village smiths in the FFHC rice cultivation areas were located and interviewed by a highly experienced Gambian smith and the advisor. The FFHC's aims were explained to them. Finally eight of the twenty-three smiths interviewed were chosen on the basis of the following criteria:
- Central location in the various rice cultivation areas
- Earlier training and qualifications
- Experience in working with FFHC/FSP (Food Security Programme)
- Own equipment
- Motivation, interest, personal professional perspectives.
These criteria were applied in order to short-list the candidates.
The future requirements to be met by them were explained in detail and their own whishes as regards further training and additional tools were taken into account. At this point, it was established that the majority of the participants al ready knew which tools they needed without ever having bought them. The main reason given, apart from lack of capital, was the great distance to the shops in Banjul (200 - 300 km) or Kaolack, Senegal. The trouble involved in a journey of 2 -3 days outweighed the advantages of a metal drill or a hacksaw. They preferred to wait until the opportunity arose to buy something at a reasonable price from a dealer or on the local market. FFHC informed the state RVTP about the final selection of the smiths and the planned assistance measures.
2. Further training courses
The eight smiths were invited to three five-day courses in Mansakonko. The courses were held in close cooperation with the Appropriate Technology Unit at the Rural Development Institute. The Institute made its technical facilities and materials available to the participants. This had the effect of simultaneously stimulating an exchange of views and experiences between the Appropriate Technology Unit, the FFHC, and the smiths on various technical problems in rural areas and ways of solving them. The smiths are now in touch with a competent body of people with whom they can always discuss technical matters in the future.
In contrast to the Government's six-month training courses, the initial two courses were not directed towards an abstract accumulation of skills, but tried instead to find solutions to specific repair problems. During the first course, the rice pedal thresher was introduced in order to test the practical abilities of the individual smiths.* This is a relatively complex agricultural machine that was new to all participants. The smiths were first introduced to the various types of the machine and its principles were explained by taking apart and assembling the various components. The smiths practiced removing broken parts and repaired these themselves as far as this was technically possible.
During this process, the participants' technical understanding was revealed in the way in which they used individual tools such as the metal file, spanner, metal drill, thread-cutting tools and welding equipment. In this way, it was possible to plan for individual guidance and future direction. As a concrete result of the first work shop, 13 pedal threshers were repaired, a systematic maintenance plan was developed and the correct way of using new tools was learnt. As a first step towards assisting with the acquisition of tools, the Secretary General of the FFHC presented the participants with a locally made tool chest equipped with the necessary tools for maintenance and repair work.
The second course's programme was determined by the FFHC's need for particular machines and information gained from further visits to various workshops specializing in riveting, hardening and plumbing.
In this course, priority was again given to specific examples of cases which are important for the smith's future work. Work benches, forgetables and covers for rice threshers were made with rivet joints.
Plumbing skills were improved by making pails, watering cans and tin containers. In the second course, two well qualified smiths conducted most of the further training themselves. This direct transfer of knowledge among the participants proved to be an important didactic and stimulating element. A VSO volunteer smith and the advisor observed the learning and teaching process, gave occasional hints and demonstrated particular ways of dealing with a problem. The results of the second workshop were most encouraging: Mastering of rivet joints, making of tools, improving plumbing skills, employment of file and hacksaw.
Again, various tools were made available to the smiths. The products made during the course of the workshops were taken home and used as models for further production.
A third and, for the moment, final course in view of the funds available, is planned for the end of the rainy season. In this course, harvesting and garden tools and vehicles are to be repaired, improved and constructed. In addition it is planned that individual smiths should undergo a short further training course with other smiths according to their own needs and abilities. In this way, some can teach the making of aluminium cooking pots while others demonstrate the cutting of threads for nuts and bolts. This direct method of learning among the smiths is to be extended to other products and techniques. Experienced smiths from outside (from Senegal for instance) will also be involved in this. The FFHC and the advisor would then work in a mobilizing and informative capacity. A great financial or organizational input would not be necessary.
3. Credit programme for tools
On the basis of individual needs and growing technical demands, a discussion was held with the smiths on improving and augmenting the various metalwork tools in their possession. A list of tools that were needed was drawn up. These were then bought mainly in the country and given to the smiths on a partial loan basis once they had the opportunity to use them during the course. Some tools (e.g. anvil, vice, forge and a set of thread-cutting tools) are long-lasting and relatively expensive. The initial investment will not be balanced by higher productivity for some time. Both for this reason and to stimulate motivation credit was limited to one third of the value of the tools. When the smiths have paid back the loan (within a period of three years) two thirds of the total value, approximately DM 2300, will be waived. The loan can be paid back in cash or by working for the FFHC. As the FFHC needs a large number of shovels, hoes, sickles, pails, watering cans etc., every year, the repayment of the loan, probably in advance of schedule, is assured. In the future (given that finance is available), more tools and materials are to be made available as needed. They are to be paid for at full price on a credit basis.
4. Construction of workshops
The construction of workshops is closely connected to the tool credit programme. The construction of a workshop was necessary partly because of the technical changes involved the work, for instance, the standing position for working at the anvil, work bench and vice (sawing, filing, drilling, thread cutting).
It was also necessary to provide a shelter for the large number of valuable tools. Three of the smiths had, up to this point, worked under a tree next to a heap of scrap metal. They kept their few tools in an old sack or box. The others crouched under a flat straw cover which protected them from wind and sun. As the workplace was usually in a central spot about 50 -100 metres from the smith's home, it was not possible to carry the new tools back and forth every day.
The construction of the workshop was based on local materials and built in the local manner. Particular emphasis was laid on robust materials and stable foundations, as the building was to be used by a large number of people (a smith is always surrounded by casual observers and waiting customers). In contrast to traditional house construction, solid foundations, made from laterite, cement and sand, were laid. These were to counteract the usual tendency for walls to crack after subsidence during heavy rainfall. The air-dried clay bricks were made with a hand press. As much clay as possible was taken from termite hills, since this material is harder once it has been fermented by the ants. These clay bricks are far stronger than the traditional kind, without entailing any extra expense. The sloping tin roof leans on a construction of wooden supports built around the outside of the walls. The workshop is built facing away from the wind. The side facing the prevailing wind is completely walled. A shelved cupboard, made of clay, is built into the back wall.
The FFHC provides the cement (some of it on a part-credit basis) the hand press and old roofing tin, as well as the services of a trained builder. The smith and his friends must provide the rest of the material sand construct the building. This amounts to a total value of more than DM 500. The demonstrative effect of this longer-lasting mode of construction on the village must not be underestimated. A great deal of interest has been shown in the hand press. One smith is trying to make such presses himself. Up to now, three workshops have been built. The other smiths want to construct new workshops adapted to their specific needs at the end of the rainy season.
The smiths emphasized unanimously that they have less backache and generally feel more at ease when working in an upright position, and this is a further reason for the new buildings.
The expected results will be observed systematically once the first period of promotion (further training, tools, construction of workshops and specific jobs) is over. Due to his higher qualifications and level of productivity, the village smith has significant potential to bring about changes for himself and the village community.
- Less time and money need be spent on repair work and spare parts in distant places. As the farmers in this region generally discover that their equipment is in need of repair at the beginning of the rainy season, any delays often directly influence the harvest.
- Improvements in job opportunities and training for the villagers, as all smiths are ready to take on apprentices, if they do not already do so, to cope with the extra work.
- Less need to spend money or goods on services, spare parts from outside; i. e., an increase in local demand.
- Increase in agricultural production, harvest, income, and thus in the demand for consumer and agricultural equipment. Although we are primarily concerned with women's technical problems, the male village population can also benefit greatly from the programme.
- The better-qualified smiths attract business from the surrounding villages which otherwise would have gone to the main centres. Work opportunities and income can thus be expected within the rural areas.
- The smith's technical knowledge and capabilities are likely to convince the farmer of the advantages of agricultural equipment for his own work. The smith's function as an informer and advisor is a future perspective rather than present reality. He must be given the opportunity to gain information and experience.
Plans for future assistance to smiths
The list of results and changes that are expected is, at the same time, a reflection of the range of business and infrastructural problems that are involved in the assistance programme to smiths. In addition to individual business matters (materials, work techniques, tools, quality of production, cost accounts, capital formation) there is a close interrelationship between the development of agricultural production, income and demand. The development possibilities of rural smithmanship and craftsmanship are greatly influenced by infrastructural conditions such as communication and transport, electricity, access to bank facilities and the Government's import and agricultural policies.
The intended continuation and limited extension of the smith project in the FFHC rice cultivation areas would, on the basis of experience from the first phase, include the following elements.
- Advice given to individual businesses by means of regular workshop visits to discuss concrete problems and solutions, e. 9. recording of work done, income, output, price calculation and cost accounting; opening of bank or post-office account, contacts established with bank and state advisory bodies; improvement of technical skills and information on tools and working materials.
- Provision and part-financing of tools and materials.
- Experience should be exchanged between smiths in different regions. It should be possible to exchange technical know-how during short visits to small businesses with qualified metal workers (Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau).
- Cooperation with the Indigenous Business Advisory Service (IBAS), the state advisory service to craftsmen and small industries: Explanation of the FFHC's assistance programme to the smiths, proposals for a joint advisory programme with IBAS.
· Accompanying observation/ evaluation of the social, technical, and economic changes in the life of the smiths and their village environment, particularly the relationship between the smiths assistance programme and the production of food and cash-crop.
The FFHC is involved in a large number of other activities aimed at increasing food production in the rural areas of The Gambia. It assists with crop stores, cereal banks, village mills, and community gardens. The smith's assistance programme is an additional measure toward supporting this integrated approach, which is aimed at increasing food production and self-sufficiency in the rural areas.
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