Moroccan artisans have been starved of income for almost three months now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pottery, basketwork and wrought-iron furniture pile up in the deserted stalls of the Oulja arts and crafts complex in Sale near the Moroccan capital Rabat.
“Coronavirus is the knockout punch: without help, without support, our profession will disappear,” said Youssef Rghalmi, a 49-year-old potter, AFP reported.
In the family workshop, where skills have been handed down from generation to generation, the clay has dried up, the oven is turned off and the nine employees no longer turn up for work.
The last order, for a customer from France who called off her visit because of border closures, is gathering dust in a corner.
The enterprising 62-year-old had added a small restaurant to his shop but it closed because of lockdown measures imposed since mid-March.
“We were already struggling to survive because lifestyles have changed,” said Mohamed Touel, a master carver of “gebs” decorative plaster.
“Traditional trades are being lost because young people don’t want to take over.”
Foreign tourists have vanished, the lockdown has paralysed economic life and local customers “have other priorities”, Ahmed Driouch said in his store cluttered with copper lamps, ceramics, daggers, jewelry, inlaid chests and carpets.
Business has been “two hundred percent affected by the virus”, he said, grimly forecasting it would take “at least two or three years” to return to normal.
Upstairs, employees dusted some 10,000 carpets in stock, one by one.
“We must clean everything even if, for now, nobody’s coming,” one of them said ruefully, vacuum cleaner in hand.
According to AFP, Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts Nadia Fettah has proposed ideas such as exhibition spaces in supermarkets to revive a sector that provides employment to two million people.
That includes about 230,000 traditional artisans.
The crafts industry represents around seven percent of GDP, with an export turnover last year of nearly one billion dirhams ($100 million).
Despite their role in the economy, artisans work without social security cover and with a limited distribution network, much of it through word of mouth, like elsewhere in North Africa.