USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service employees recently brought some holiday cheer to an unlikely group—basket weavers from the Rwanda Basket Company.
The Rwanda Basket Company provides training and tools to basket weavers in Rwanda. The Company helps to open overseas markets for the baskets and ensures a better profit for 400 weavers and their 3,000 dependents. The money provides education and improves conditions for those living in one of Africa’s poorest countries.
The Rwanda Basket Company’s weavers create baskets, trivets and other items from dried grasses native to Rwanda. These goods are then shipped for sale to destinations around the world, including the United States.
Unfortunately, when one shipment of baskets arrived at the Seattle port of entry, inspectors found the actionable fungus Phyllachora sp. on the grasses. While the grasses were dried, the fungus was very much alive and could spread and cause harm to America’s agricultural crops.
The baskets were rejected and the importers, U.S. partners with the Rwanda Basket Company, were faced with only two options: re-export to Rwanda or destroy the baskets. At this time, no treatments to mitigate this particular fungus were listed in the current treatment manuals.
When APHIS personnel in Seattle learned of the mission of the Rwanda Basket Company, and the financial impact of losing such a large shipment of baskets during the holiday season, they sprang to action. APHIS employees, including Plant Pathological Gayle van de Kerckhove, went above and beyond to determine a treatment option that would work. They determined that moist heat treatment at a certain temperature would be sufficient to mitigate the pest risk without harming the baskets. The baskets were treated in Seattle and released just in time for sale across the United States. The new treatment option is now being used to treat other handicrafts that may not have otherwise been cleared for importation.
The Rwanda Basket Company is a program of Rwanda Partners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to poverty reduction and reconciliation in Rwanda. You can learn more about the Rwanda Basket Company here.