Empowering Malagasy women through climate-smart raffia production

18 August 2015
ITC News
Support for women’s associations in Madagascar to enhance raffia production is also helping the conservation of biodiversity in the Makira Natural Park.

In 2015, the International Trace Centre’s (ITC) Trade and Environment Programme in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) launched a two-year project in Madagascar to improve and develop the raffia-palm value chain for the international handicraft and fashion industries. The aim of the initiative is to enhance women’s economic empowerment and strengthen the climate resilience of Madagascar’s raffia sector.

Leaves from Madagascar’s raffia palms are widely used as a high-quality natural input for products made by local communities and international companies, including basic woven goods and high-end luxury products. International fashion houses have expressed interest in sourcing a sustainable supply of raffia from women’s associations based around Madagascar’s Makira Natural Park, which have a long history of raffia production for local markets.

Raffia value addition

Raffia harvesting, sorting, and processing are carried out manually, and often by local groups or associations who sell directly to brands or retailers. Support to increase the quality and business capacity of these associations and linking them to international markets through trade fairs and workshops will increase their bargaining position and the income they receive from their products. However, raffia in the Makira Natural Park has been affected by climate change: frequent droughts are threatening to up raffia forests. To help tackle this, ITC and WCS are providing assistance for climate-change adaptation to secure stable incomes from raffia in the long term.

The interest in sourcing raffia from Makira is not only because of the high quality found in this area, but also the added benefits from enhanced biodiversity conservation. WCS is the delegated manager of the 372,000-hectar park, which contains over 20 lemur species and the largest remaining area of low to mid-elevation tropical forest in the Madagascar.

The project will provide households around the park with increased income and aims to reduce their dependence on unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. Households engaged in the project will also be involved in conservation activities in Makira Natural Park as part of their responsibilities and collaborative managers of the Park.

Training of trainer workshops

During the months of July and August 2015, ITC and WCS have been offering training workshops for around 200 women from six women associations in the Makira forest. The women have been trained on raffia harvesting, sorting, drying, tanning, processing techniques to improve product quality, the creation and design of final products as well as on planting techniques of the raffia trees to ensure climate resilience and long-term profitability.

The capacity building sessions are implemented in two stages. First, 24 representatives – four women from each woman’s associations – participated in a ‘training-of-trainer’ workshop to enable them to train other members of their associations in the long-run. In the upcoming weeks, 180 members of the women associations will successively receive one week training sessions. In 2016, the women associations will receive trainings on contract negotiations and organization of their associations, thus increasing their business capacity.

Manuals, training modules and posters were prepared in Malagasy and French and will form a base for replicating the project in other regions of Madagascar.

The raffia project is intertwined with to a broader programme ITC is developing in Madagascar, which focuses on promoting exports of natural resources to provide direct benefit to rural livelihoods and encourage conservation of biodiversity. This broader programme is supported by the Ministry of Trade and Consumption, and the Ministry of Environment of Madagascar.

Learn more about ITC’s Trade and Environment Programme.