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Opinions of Sunday, 22 November 2015

Columnist: Mary Anane

The pillow city giving way to coffins and wreaths

Juapong, a small town in the North Tongu District in the Volta region, is a well-known place associated with the sale of pillows.

However, the once vibrant pillow-making town is gradually losing its identity.

A few years ago, a common feature on the main road leading to Juapong from the Adomi Bridge was the display of beautiful assorted pillows.

The pillow trade became vibrant because the people, especially the women, accepted it as an indigenous trade and were much involved.

The business was not only important to the women in Juapong. It was also a good job for somemen who acted as middle men and helped in the loading of the pillows.

Though some pillows are still displayed along the road, the pillow industry is struggling to thrive. Instead, a fast growing coffin and wreath market is springing up.

Using the road from the Senchi Ferry site to Juapong, one would see a lot of wreaths and coffins on display on both sides of the road, as that of the pillow market seems to sink. Many of the shelves on which pillows were sold are empty.

Fallen Pillow City

Due to the collapse of this indigenous business, some of the youth are said to have migrated to other places to seek greener pastures, while certain crimes, including robbery and theft which had declined over years, have popped up again in Juapong.

The fall of the pillow city could be associated with the low productivity of the Volta Star Textiles Limited (VSTL) at Juapong and the Akosombo Textile Limited as the local people depended on waste cotton or materials from these factories to produce pillows and mattresses.

The Chief Executive of Margico Enterprise, Auntie Margaret Okyere, who sells pillows on wholesale, lamented that the pillow business has collapsed.

Madam Okyere took over the trade from her mother in 1991 and had trained several women to make pillows.

She revealed that the business was one of the lucrative ventures in Ghana and recounted how in the glory days of the business, traders from Tema, Accra, Kumasi, Koforidua, Tamale and Togo travelled to Juapong to buy pillows in large quantities. That, she said, enabled them to make a lot of income to support their families.

Madam Okyere, who was making a few pillows to feed her shelf with the help of one of her workers, said fortunes in the trade had dropped because the raw materials were no longer available.

“Previously, if you came to this town, you would find pillows arranged beautifully all over and it created a lot of jobs for the youth. We even supplied some hospitals as well. I did not make less than GH¢300 profit a day,” she said.

She mentioned that some of the retailers came to her on a daily basis pleading that something should be done about this problem because “this is the only business we know but what can I do as an individual when the source of our raw material is no more? Every town has a business which they are identified with. Ours is pillow making so we should be kept in business,” she said while calling on the government to revive VSTL.

The Wreath Business

Looking at how various wreaths have been arranged by the roadside, one would be tempted to believe that the people had found an equally better trade to replace the pillow business.

However, Madam Vicky Amefu who was a pillow trader but now sells wreaths said “you cannot compare the pillow business with that of the wreath.”

The sale of wreaths, she stated, was just to help them survive.

Apart from travelling to Accra all the time for the materials for the wreaths, which was burdensome, she disclosed that the wreaths provided low income because “we do not sell them in large quantity. We only sell them to individuals travelling to areas in the Volta Region for funerals.”

Unlike the pillows which could remain the same for a year, wreaths have a very short life span of two weeks.

Madam Amefu said if the wreaths were not sold on time, they lost their beauty.

“I really want to invest in the pillows; these wreaths are just to help me survive the hardship in the meantime,” she said.

But how can the pillow business be restored when Juapong and Akosombo textiles are no longer operational?

The state of VSTL

Many of the pillow traders depended solely on VSTL for the raw material to produce their pillows. By buying the waste cotton, they equally generated income for the company.

The VSTL Company, until its final closure recently, was struggling to meet production cost as it could only produce 600,000 yards instead of two million yards of fabric a month.

The factory is the only industrial pride of the people of the Volta Region and other regions such as Eastern and Greater Accra, and even Togo.

There have been calls from chiefs and opinion leaders for the factory to be privatised. This view has been supported by some workers of the factory.

The recent call was made at a youth durbar at Juapong where the President of the Dofor Traditional Council, Togbe Adela Titriku Anaze XI, called on the government to find all avenues, including privatisation of the factory, to save it from collapsing.

This is because a lot of people depended on it for their livelihood.

Way Forward

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the interim management committee of VSTL, Mr John Akowuah, has said that the issue confronting the company is not a matter of viability because the company has a ready market for its products.

He said all that was needed was finances to restore the factory to an acceptable position.