Quick—what comes to mind when you hear “fair trade”? Coffee, chocolate, tea? How about eco-friendly jewelry? Probably not. But a small nut transformed into beautiful jewelry by fair trade artisans is pivotal to environmental goals in South America and to preserving the elephant population.
The tagua nut is the seed pod of a rainforest palm tree, commonly known as Ivory Palm or Tagua Palm. When dried out, it can be carved just like elephant ivory. In fact, its close resemblance to animal ivory has gained it the nickname “vegetable ivory.”
For decades, “slash and burn” agricultural methods have been destroying rainforests, replaced by cattle ranches and banana plantations. Fair trade organizations, in keeping with the fair trade principle of environmental stewardship, saw an opportunity to help stem this activity and generate better jobs for indigenous South Americans.
Drawing on native carving techniques, they partner with artisans to create fashion-forward jewelry from the nuts. This work can produce up to 5 times more income for the South Americans than their usual jobs on the ranches and plantations.
Tagua jewelry production leaves the forests intact. The nuts are harvested from the ground after the ripe fruit has fallen from the tree, so the palm continues to grow and produce.
By developing a mainstream market for the jewelry, fair trade groups have also helped to reduce the number of elephants illegally poached for their tusks. One Tagua Palm yields up to 50 pounds of nuts a year, about the same weight as an average elephant tusk. More economical and much more humane.
Rainforest jewelry is just one example of many illustrating how fair trade is inextricably linked to environmental sustainability. So when you think green, think fair trade.