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Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and the 12th poorest country in the world.
Currently 90% of Forests of the World's imports come from Madagascar. Our main supplier there is Madagascar Arts, a company mainly run by women with which we have worked for the past ten years. Its owners have included expatriot development workers from USAID, CARE, and Catholic Relief Services. Many of our products' designs have been developed over the years through direct collaboration between the artisans in Madagascar and Forests of the World's designers.
When our relationship with them began in 1994, Madagascar Arts employed only 5 people, and their scale of both production and sales was small. In the past decade, demand for these products has increased dramatically and Madagascar Arts has grown. At times it employs over 100 people, and it has indirectly supported hundreds of artisans and groups throughout the country with contracts to supply a wide variety of specialty products, such as the giraffes, musical instruments, and sets of chests that we now carry.
We also carry hats and a wide variety of bags from Madagascar Arts. Hats in particular are an integral part of Malagasy (Madagascar native) culture; people from each of the country's six regions can be identified by their unique style of hat.
A direct link to the community
Purchasing one of our raffia products from Madagascar helps the local economy in very direct ways, especially in the rural communities where our producers live. Sales of these products provide jobs not just to the artisans and exporters in Madagascar, but also to hundreds of other people who supply and produce raw materials and components for their finished goods. Since 1994, we have sold over $1.5 million worth of raffia products from Madagascar, injecting over $400,000 into Madagascar's struggling economy. At least 60% of that money has gone directly to the rural communities where our producers live and work.
The economic benefits from sales of these beautiful pieces have had important social consequences as well. The artisans working directly with Madagascar Arts decided to form a benefits pool for cases of disability. All the artists pay into the pool and when one of them is injured or becomes sick, they may withdraw money from the pool to help them survive until they can work again. Madagascar Arts now also pays into the government-sponsored health insurance program for all its employees, giving them free access to government clinics to treat them and their families.
As the Madagascar Arts has developed, its managers and members have also gained valuable skills, such as computer and e-mail skills, as well as knowledge of foreign markets; these skills have helped them improve sales for their artists. The next step in their organizational development could well be the formation of a fair trade association that will help them receive better prices for their products.