Janet Troy Aug 08 2 min read

Raffia From The Tree To Your Hand

It’s humbling to find out more about where our raffia comes from and how it’s grown. Whilst we all love to have endless supplies at our fingertips for our crafting projects, the reality is that we are totally reliant on an ongoing supply of good quality raffia from Madagascar.

There are times when the ships from Madagascar only run twice a year, so there can be some nail-biting delays and long periods where we eagerly await their arrival. Forward planning and forecasting are required to ensure that we have a constant supply of raffia available to you, our customers.

Growing good quality raffia is no easy task. The tree tolerates full sun, but needs swampy conditions to grow well. Too much, or not enough water, the time of harvesting and storage conditions are all factors that can affect the quality of this amazing palm – Raphia farinifera – native to Madagascar.

In a country that is challenged by extreme weather and poverty, raffia has become an important export fibre for Madagascar. It is known to be the highest quality raffia in the world.

Once planted, the raffia palm takes 6 years to start producing. The young leaves can be pruned between May and October each year. Fortunately, there are procedures in place to ensuresustainable practices in Madagascar. If raffia is harvested too early and too often, this would lead to an over-exploitation of the resource.

After the raffia is harvested, the rainy season occurs between November and April. During this time, the raffia palm trees can regenerate. Each raffia palm tree is generally harvested only four times. The yield is low on the first harvest, but improves each time, with a general yield of 5 to 10 kg of dry raffia per tree per year.

After harvesting, the raffia is dried and sorted into different qualities and lengths (graded) before it is bundled into 1kg henks ready for export.

Fortunately, the Malagasy authorities in Madagascar have imposed a reforestation requirement of 200 young raffia plants for one ton harvested to safeguard the resource.

So next time you open a bundle of raffia, spare a thought for those that nurtured that little plant from tiny seedling to massive palm tree, waited until the time was right to harvest, sorted it into various lengths, graded it into different qualities, twisted it into a henk, then packed it for shipping all the way from Madagascar to Australia and then finally to you!

Raffia basket by Bethany Collins, South Australia (@earthlee1989)

Thank you to Raffia Imports Australia for assisting with information and photos.