Tagua, also known as Vegetable Ivory, is the seed found within the pod of an Ivory Nut Palm. We use tagua in many of our Fair Trade products but few people know about the fascinating history of this important rainforest seed.
A Brief History
Up until World War II, tagua was a widely used material and was exported from South America on a massive scale. In the early part of the 19th century approximately $5,000,000.00 worth of tagua seeds were exported annually from South America. The major producing countries were Ecuador and Colombia; Ecuador reached a peak in 1929 when it exported 56,861,236 pounds of tagua. Throughout the 1920s, 20% of all buttons produced in the US were made from this material. However, with the introduction of plastic, and other cheaper synthetic alternatives, the popularity of this unique natural material drastically declined.
How Hope for Women Uses Tagua Today
Tagua has exceptional carvability, which is where it’s nickname, Vegetable Ivory stems from. This quality makes it the perfect material to create jewelry from. The tagua seed is removed from it’s pod, stripped from its outer shell and polished. Depending on the desired look, the hull is either completely removed or only partially in order to create a striped “zebra” look.
The Harvesting of Tagua
There is no harm done to the rainforest during the harvesting of tagua because these seeds are collected after they have fallen to the ground. In fact, the collection of tagua helps to provide incentive to local forest inhabitants to keep the rainforest intact. At Hope for Women, we use two different types of tagua seeds from Colombia. Chicon tagua grows in the upper montane rainforests in the Narino Department of Colombia and is collected by Awa Indians who are indigenous to the region. Coastal tagua, which is bigger than chicon, grows in the Pacific coastal rainforests of southwestern Colombia and is collected by Afro-Colombians. The collection of these seeds provides great opportunity and much needed income to both groups who harvest them, helping to improve their lives.
View this slideshow and video to see and learn more about the complete harvesting process:
The Finished Product
Tagua is an excellent material to work with for jewelry making not only because it can be cut, carved and polished with ease, but it also because it easily absorbs coloring agents. This allows you to find tagua pieces in your favorite colors! Hope for Women artisans handcraft the tagua seeds into beautiful pieces of jewelry such as the ones below:
Its Not too Late to Start a New’s Years Resolution
Hard to believe it is over two weeks into the new year! Are you still struggling to decide on a New Year’s Resolution? We have a great suggestion for you that will positively impact many other lives as well as your own. Why not make the commitment to buying Fair Trade products whenever possible? By making this resolution, you will be insuring that the products you purchase are created by people who are earning a fair, livable wage for their hard work. With Fair Trade products, everyone wins; workers are empowered, lives are improved, and consumers are able to buy amazing products that are produced in a way that is line with their values and beliefs. Here are a few ideas on how you can begin acting on this New Year’s resolution:
1. Give a Fair Trade Gift EarthLover is a Fair Trade, Eco Friendly retailer that sells beautiful, handmade goods from around the world. They carry a wide variety of bags, shoes, wallets and other accessories for men, women and babies as well as home goods and body products. http://www.earthlovershopping.com/
Gifts with Humanity is another business that sells hand-crafted, Fair Trade products from various regions across the globe. They have a diverse assortment of tableware and home decor, which could be given as the perfect hostess gift. http://www.giftswithhumanity.com/
Hope for Women carries a large selection of unique jewelry and accessories to choose from, which are made from innovative recycled materials such as tire tube and Eco leather. http://www.hopeforwomen.com/lifestyle/products/
2. Send a Fair Trade Card Hope for Women carries beautiful, handmade, “tree-free” paper cards. These artistic cards are perfect for any occasion. Valentine’s Day, for example is just around the corner and our gracefully designed cards created with pressed wild flowers would make the perfect valentine! http://www.hopeforwomen.com/lifestyle/products/indianotecardcollection/
3. Drink Fair Trade Coffee An alternative goal to reducing your coffee consumption could be to instead commit to buying it responsibly by finding Fair Trade certified options. This allows you to support coffee farmers and eco-friendly farming methods while continuing to satiate your caffeine addiction. Grounds for Change for example is a certified organic coffee roaster, which specializes in 100% Fair Trade coffee and also sells Fair Trade organic tea, hot chocolate and chocolate bars. http://www.groundsforchange.com/index.php?
4. Start Buying More Fair Trade Foods Equal Exchange is a co-op that sells not only Fair Trade coffee, but also numerous other Fair Trade products from farmers worldwide such as tea, almonds, chocolate, sugar, olive oil, and bananas. This co-op can help you to purchase many of the foods that you buy on a regular basis, in a way that empowers small farmers and encourages sustainable farming methods! http://www.equalexchange.coop/index.php