Madagascar, one of the most bio-diverse areas but poorest nations in the world, has lost 40 percent of its rainforests to mass farming and mining in the last 50 years. To halt this, much of the remaining forests were designated as preserved areas and parks. However, in doing so, over 300,000 people were economically displaced.
Must poverty alleviation and environmental conservation always be at odds?
In 2000, Catherine Craig, Ph.D., found a solution in farming native species of silkworms, and in 2003, Craig founded Conservation through Poverty Alleviation (CPALI) with two initial goals: beautiful textiles and forest conservation. Spending a year in Madagascar in 2009, Craig developed the best practices for the farmers and organized a local team. Mamy Ratsimbazafy now heads the program he founded in Madagascar, SEPALI Madagascar.
Through SEPALI, farmers are trained to rear wild silkworms and the trees that the silkworms feed on. However, it takes time for the silkworms and trees to grow, delaying the return on the farmers’ investments; therefore, farmers who plant at least 250 trees gain access to low-cost school supplies. Also, because of SEPALI, families can afford to send their children to school with the income gained from the silk, and women can achieve a measure of financial independence by participating in textile production workshops.
With so many people running SEPALI Madagascar, CPALI can now focus on creating a global demand for the silk. Thanks to such a beautiful product and an innovative program, opportunities have blossomed organically as the silk makes its way into the design world. Wild Silk Markets made its East Coast debut at the 2015 Architectural Digest Home Design Show, receiving incredibly positive feedback. Every penny earned through sales is reinvested back into SEPALI to further benefit the farmers.
Also, many have jumped at the opportunity to work with such a unique material, while supporting such an innovative program. Tara St. James used the first completed piece of this textile to make a stunning dress, while Sean Reico and Lisa Pointon-Reico of dConstruct, a Canadian design company, have begun experimenting with new types of lighting that incorporate the silk. Madagascar wild silks are also found in the Material ConneXion libraries in New York, Milan and Bangkok.
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