Since the implementation of the plastic ban at the beginning of the year, small scale businesses focusing on recycled totes or grocery bags had started to flourish in the Sultanate.
The absence of single-use plastic in malls and grocery stores had been replaced with the proliferation of different multi-use containers, some made of paper and others made of clothes.
For Irene Agtonong, she automatically defaulted to using qafeer — the organic, locally-produced containers made by artisan Omanis who weaved palm fronds to take different shapes and has been in use for as long as souqs had been popular in Oman.
Al khaws or palm leaves had always been part of the palm frond weaving industry in the country with traditional Omani handicraft makers creating different household materials from this part of the date palm.
“These organic bags are more reliable and can be multi-used and more reliable than paper bags,” said Agtonong.
“Unlike paper bags, these do not tear easily and can be used multiple times and can also carry heavier items. I noticed that many people are leaning towards using totes and clothing bags but this is also a perfect opportunity to showcase the resilience and the beauty of this artisanal containers,” she said.
“I think it just needs to be brought to the public the same way that clothing or other bags are made available to buyers. If these palm frond bags are displayed in prominent counters in shops and stores, I’m sure there will be a deeper appreciation and even a preference for it,” she said.
Agtonong lamented that such bags, the quality ones, usually can only be found in souqs and specialised stores. She suggested that this shouldn’t be the case and that more effort should be poured into bringing them into local stores not only in souqs.
Driving to Fanja souq on a Friday, Agtonong was very happy to see different palm-frond bags displayed with different options for sizes and shapes.
“I went on a trip to Fanja over the weekend and was surprised that qafeer comes in different shapes and forms. There are really beautiful ones that can easily be taken to malls and shops,” she said.
“The traditional Omani handicraft makers had been producing different varieties for years. Personally, I think it’s just a matter of changing perspective and updating some of the designs to make them relevant and interesting to the buyers,” she said.
Fanja Souq is one of the popular souqs closest to Muscat and is an amazing destination for local finds, from artisanal pots to home decors and even animal feeds and Omani food favourites.
‘Most of the stores in Fanja have many items to choose from. These containers had been used for a generation so their longevity is already time tested,” Agtonong said.
“Buying these products is also one way of showing support to small scale businesses. Two of the stores I visited said that they got their supplies from women handicraft centres. This is an amazing time to make these locally produced containers in vogue again,” she said.