Tagua Nut: An Ethical Alternative to Ivory July 06 2015, 0 Comments

Deep in the Amazon Rainforest lies a nut that when carved takes on the appearance of ivory. When the nut is ripe, it falls to the earth making collection safe. It absorbs dye like a dream and is commonly used to make jewelry and art. This nut is called Tagua, or vegetable ivory, and prompts the question- why is anybody still using ivory?

Tagua (pronounced TAG-WAH) grows on a tree that looks like a palm tree. The nuts are found inside spiny pods ("mocochas" in Spanish) on the tree, each pod can contain between 40 and 80 nuts. Harvesting the nuts does not disturb the tree’s reproduction, making Tagua an ecologically sound resource as well.

(photo courtesy of Encanto)

Fair Trade strives to use materials that are ethical and good for the environment, making Tagua a popular material with Fair Trade jewelry and handicraft artisans. At One World Fair Trade, we see Tagua Nut products from Ecuador and Colombia. Both countries are home to artisan groups that abide by the Fair Trade Principles and create opportunities for disadvantaged members of their communities.

Blue Tagua Nut Necklace    Red Tagua Nut Bracelet

Much of our sleek, modern Tagua Jewelry comes from a workshop in Colombia owned by the Misrachi family, who have over 30 years of experience with Tagua and were awarded the title of best small exporter in all of Colombia in 2013. They ensure employees are paid fairly and have health benefits and job security. Employees are encouraged to voice their opinions and safety precautions are taken around the machinery, which is housed in the large workshop with lots of natural light.

(photo courtesy of Encanto)

The gorgeous Tagua nut carvings we get come from a group out of Ecuador called Camari that works with 6,500 artisan and farmer families. Camari was founded in 1981 with the goal of supporting small farmers (“campesinos”) and artisans so they are able to work from and stay in their homes and communities rather than moving to the cities to find work. Artisans working with Camari (which means gift in the Quechua language) are able to sell their products for a fair price and are taught to factor their time and resources into the price, whereas many artisans were previously forced to sell their goods for whatever they could, often resulting in a loss of profits. These artisans also have access to training, marketing outlets, technical assistance and credit.

Tagua Nut Swan    Tagua Nut Hummingbird

With such a material available to artisans, consumers who desire the appearance of ivory have an alternative that brings harm to no one. Elephants and rhinoceroses, the rain forest and communities local to the rain forest all gain from the wonderful Eco-FriendlyTagua nut.