In 2006, having been awarded a Fulbright research grant, I traveled to Ghana to study the lively textile traditions and set up a studio. Among the supplies I carried with me was a box of kozo fiber. At one point in my research year, I conducted a papermaking workshop on the campus of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Working with 60 art students, we made paper out of local botanicals using modest homemade equipment, and eventually added some of my kozo to give our papers greater strength. This workshop was such a success that I knew we needed to find a way to keep the papermaking activity going. I approached the Forestry Commission to inquire if there were any plants in Ghana that might have some of the qualities of kozo. To my surprise I learned that kozo—paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera)—referred to in Ghana as pulp mulberry, was growing abundantly!
In 1969, fourteen pulp-mulberry plants were brought into Ghana from China and planted in a forest preserve with the intention of evaluating its potential for creating a papermaking industry. The project was lost for unknown reasons, and the fourteen plants languished in the forest preserve. Then a drought was followed by forest fires, raising the forest canopy, and the fourteen plants began to flourish. Pulp mulberry has become the most serious, troublesome, non-indigenous woody plant found in at least six regions of Ghana. Currently the Ghanaian Forestry Commission reports that this plant is causing serious damage to the ecosphere and local agriculture, affecting human health and infrastructure. Various means of controlling it, including burning acres of land, have yielded limited success.
Since 2007 I have worked with a small group of horticulturists, artists, educators, and civic leaders to nurture papermaking activity. We have developed and produced handmade papers using the pulp mulberry. Our work has yielded high-quality paper for prototype products suitable for a variety of functional and artistic purposes. This includes paper bags and artistically designed folding screens and lamps covered in handmade paper produced in collaboration with local craftsmen. A limited-edition fine press book exclusively using our Ghanaian papers has been collected by major museums and library special collections internationally. During these years of fieldwork, we have developed strategies for teaching the production of hand papermaking in Ghana and conducted workshops in university, polytechnic, and community settings.
Our papermaking enterprise has evolved into a non-profit, the Krataa Foundation. Krataa is the Twi word for paper and translates literally as “image of the soul.” We are dedicated to promoting the use of Ghanaian pulp mulberry for high-quality hand papermaking. Our objectives include: disseminating training strategies and promoting educational opportunities using Ghanaian botanical and textile waste; creating opportunities for local, national, and international artistic activity and commercial product design using paper made entirely from local bio and textile waste; collaborating with the Forestry Commission of Ghana in support of the sustainable stewardship of public lands; developing ecologically friendly strategies for removing the troublesome pulp-mulberry plant; and serving as a model and information clearinghouse for the establishment of other hand-papermaking activities within Ghana and on the African continent.
Most recently the Krataa Foundation has begun collaborating with leaders of the Forestry Commission of Ghana to consider ways of scaling our training initiatives. We hope to nurture economic enterprise in places where pulp mulberry grows abundantly by inviting area unemployed people to produce paper products relevant to the local and national Ghanaian market. In the summer of 2022, supported by the Forestry Commission, I facilitated a pilot project training 50 young, unemployed men and women to remove the raw plant material, prepare the pulp, and produce papers. The month-long intensive training was wonderfully successful. The participants produced beautiful papers and expressed interest in continuing the work. Plans are underway to continue and upscale this training, and outfit the trainees with simple equipment to set up papermaking workshops in their home villages. The partnership with the Forestry Commission includes the development of cottage-industry product fabrication, starting with paper gift bags and other packaging items. This coming year we will publish a manual describing how to make paper in Ghana. With the goal of giving access to both literate and illiterate participants, Ghanaian designer and illustrator Duke Amankwaa has created charming illustrations visually describing the entire papermaking process.
More than 40 years ago the paper-mulberry plants were brought into the country, becoming a troublesome plant species. Now with unlimited raw material available on public lands and the success of the pilot training program, the Forestry Commission of Ghana sees the viability of investing further in building papermaking activity into its program. We are very hopeful that our Ghanaian pulp-mulberry initiative is on its way to becoming an eco-social success story.
Twi is the local language in the project area.
Duke Amankwaa is an illustrator, cartoonist, and papermaker. Born in Germany, he spent his childhood in Ghana. Duke recently graduated from Hochschule Mannheim where he studied Communication Design.